Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hot cars are death traps for kids & animals alike

A living animal or creature [cannot be] unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions 
     adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.”  (N.J.S.A. 4:22-26c)

Sunscreen available from ALDF.org/hotcars 
While some deaths are unavoidable, others are 100% avoidable, and they’re the worst kind – the most hurtful to survivors and maybe guilt-inducing too. This is the season when “hot cars” can make news no one wants to read.  

“Kids locked in hot cars can die in minutes,” the headline read. And they do – 12 have died this year alone, and since 1990, there have been 793 documented vehicular heat stroke deaths in the US (many of them accidental), according to the Miami Herald. “The interior of cars left in the hot sun can reach 125 degrees in just minutes, even if the windows are cracked (which has no effect on the heating process),” the paper continued. 

Hot cars hold the same hazard for animals, especially dogs, as they do for kids.  It hasn’t happened yet this summer, but you can be sure it will, as it does every year: the media will report the death of a police dog in an overheated car.

Of course the dead dog’s human partner will reportedly be sad and sorry. And of course s/he will also be derelict, irresponsible, shamefully cruel. Of all people to let this happen – the very ones who should model correct behavior toward dogs in hot cars are too often the killers.


Beyond police officers come the countless, clueless others who leave their pets in cars “just for a minute,” that grows ever longer until . . . the worst.          

“The law protects Good Samaritans from civil liability,” the Miami Herald story said, of people who saved a child from a hot car, breaking a window if necessary after calling 911. But what about those who save animals from the same death trap? What are the legalities of helping an animal in jeopardy in a hot car?  

Providing a run-down on “hot car” laws across the country, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) indicates that some state laws are limited to specified animals and some laws allow only specified public officials to break into the vehicle to rescue the animal. Still other states have “Good Samaritan” hot car laws allowing private citizens to take matters into their own hands.

In just two states – New Jersey and West Virginia – “although it’s illegal to leave an animal trapped in a hot car, no one is granted authority to break into the vehicle to save the animal, not even law enforcement.”

You read it right. New Jersey brings up the rear in supporting would-be rescuers of animals trapped in hot cars. That hurts, even though ALDF points out that “prosecutors may be reluctant to bring charges against rescuers, given the public relations nightmare and scant chance of a conviction.”

No matter what state you may be in, here are the recommended steps to follow if you want to help an animal locked in a hot car:

1 – Be sure the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is the only way to free the animal.

2 – Try to locate the pet parent and politely inform him/her of the danger.  (I think this step wastes valuable time.)

3 – Call 911 or local enforcement.

4 – If necessary, take action yourself to free the animal.

Thank you for caring!



  1. It's amazing that people still need to be reminded that children and pets can die if they are left in cars in the heat. I guess they don't watch the news. Thanks for the information.

  2. I saw a man and his kid leave a dog tied in a car at a Petsmart as I was loading my car. I went into the store after about 10 minutes and asked them to announce on the loudspeaker. Then again at 20 minutes I was desperate to help, but no one seemed concerned since it was only 76 degrees outside. This was at Petsmart for goodness sakes, where the people were allowed to take the animal in the store with them! At the 25 minute mark the father sent the boy out to start the car, then when he walked out I said a few choice words to the man and left fuming.

  3. Great information! I came upon this video recently and thought how smart and caring. Send this child to MIT!
    If this doesn't come up just cut and paste into your browser. Joyce Allington

  4. These comments are welcome. (Since publishing this post, I read about one more child dying in a hot car.) The PetSmart reaction is right on -- geez! TIED and trapped in a car! -- and the video is terrific. Thanks!