In July of 2014, a police officer in Mills, Wyoming, allegedly killed a fellow officer – that is, a senior police dog – by leaving her locked in his patrol car for several hours. As of September 27, 2014, the officer has been charged but not yet convicted of any wrongdoing in the dog’s death. Regardless of whether he’s found guilty or innocent, the incident speaks volumes about the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car.
How quickly can hot cars kill?
The dog, Nyx, was left in the car early in the morning, with temperatures reaching just over 85 degrees by the time her handler returned around noon. Because it started at 6:00 a.m., the outdoor temperature was likely relatively cool for much of this time. When the car is sealed off from fresh air, however, it heats like an oven. At this temperature, the interior of the car reached about 115 degrees if no windows were cracked. Even if all four windows were open a couple inches, it’s estimated that the interior of the car would have still reached about 105 degrees. That’s assuming that it wasn’t in direct sun.
Dogs have thick fur coats and, as a rule, can’t cool themselves as efficiently as humans do. It can take as little as 15 minutes to cause life-threatening problems for dogs inside hot cars, especially if they don’t have access to cooler airflow. Even if the dog appears fine, it may have already suffered brain damage and respiratory problems from the heat. In the case referenced above, Nyx was still alive when her handler returned to the car, but died later as a result of the overheating.
Hot car safety best practices
The surest way to protect a dog from suffering inside a hot car is to leave it at home or with a qualified caregiver whenever the temperature climbs above 70. Take the dog inside whenever possible; Nyx herself would have lived if she’d been taken inside the police station, which is always allowed for police dogs.
Never assume that leaving the car running with an air conditioner will be enough to keep a dog cool. If the engine overheats, the compressor will turn off and the air conditioner will blow hot air, making it even more dangerous than nothing at all. Leaving the car running also presents a theft hazard, or the dog could accidentally lock the doors or knock the car into gear.
Dogs left in hot cars need immediate help. If anyone sees this in a business parking lot, then it’s imperative to inform the manager right away. Should the owners not return to the vehicle, emergency services will break the car window to keep the dog from overheating. Timely calls from concerned strangers have saved the lives of hundreds of dogs.