Rising Temperatures Pose Danger to Pets Left in Cars

by Aly Delp

JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – With the days of warmer weather slowly edging closer, the inside of a vehicle can quickly become an oven, posing a serious risk to pets left inside. 

“Research has shown that the internal vehicle temperature can rise thirty-five degrees in as little as a half hour when outside temperatures approach one hundred degrees,” according to Christian D. Malesic, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.

“Rising temperatures, humidity, and stagnant air flow cause a greenhouse effect quickly placing the lives of animals in danger if not removed from the adverse conditions.”

According to Samantha Peace, a Certified Veterinary Technician at the Animal Hospital of Punxsy, even in the shade, animals in cars are at risk, as the temperature in the car can quickly rise up to 20 degrees or more above the outside temperature.

“Signs of distress start with panting,” Peace noted. “Further into the process, a pet will get lethargic and weak and probably lay down. Labored breathing is another sign of trouble.”

While she noted that an animal showing initial signs of overheating can be treated with cool water and cold cloths, an animal that has spent too long in a hot vehicle requires immediate veterinary attention, and still may not have much of a chance.

“If it is too late, there isn’t much you can do. We always work our best based on the symptoms with things like oxygen therapy.”

While she said she hasn’t seen any serious cases of pets left in cars herself, she has heard horror stories from colleagues and things that more recent awareness campaigns may be helping prevent these incidents.

“With so much more awareness, I think it’s been helping, but there are still people who just don’t understand.”

The good news is that animals in Pennsylvania will have an extra level of protection from the extreme heat of cars this year with a new law that has been put in place. While owners are always encouraged to keep their animals safe and away from hot cars while unattended, this will be the first summer that the new law empowers law enforcement agencies to save animals in cars if owners fall short of their care responsibilities.

In October of last year, Governor Wolf signed into law The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act, which allows law enforcement officers to break into an unattended vehicle to rescue an animal left alone, if they believe the animal to be in imminent danger, after a reasonable search for the car owner.

Act 104 of 2018, formerly known as “The Hot Car Bill,” provides legal authority with civil immunity to animal control and humane officers, emergency responders, and law enforcement officers who remove unattended animals from vehicles when they’re in danger from heat or cold.

 “The law protects animals in the heat of the summer, but also in the cold of the winter,” Malesic explains. “In fact, any animal in distress can be rescued under the protection of this law during any season, even for issues such as being tangled in their leash or having their head stuck in a cracked-open window.”

In addition to making a reasonable effort to find the vehicle owner prior to entering the vehicle, the person who performed the rescue must leave a note with contact information and the location at which the animal can be retrieved.

If you see an animal that may need help, call 9-1-1 and stay with the vehicle until they arrive.

“Do not attempt to free the animal yourself,” cautions Malesic. “Although Act 104 gives immunity to law enforcement officers, it does not give immunity to you. So, the vehicle owner could take civil action against you for your actions.

It is very important to note this is not a Good Samaritan law.”