What should you do if you see a dog locked in a hot car?
Despite the numerous warnings from pet groups like the RSPCA or Pet Insurance Australia and even the NRMA, dogs still get left in cars on hot days. A study performed by RACQ in 2009 found that the interior of a car can reach a temperature over 50 degrees celsius within five minutes when the outside temperature is 32.5 degrees.
Dogs use panting and sweat minimally through their paw pads to cool themselves. These processes are much less efficient than humans who can sweat through their entire surface area. Dogs can only withstand a high body temperature for a small period of time before irreparable damage is sustained to their organs with further exposure causing death.
What are the laws?
The act of detaining a dog in a vehicle is not in itself against the law. However animal cruelty legislation does protect pets that are intentionally or unintentionally harmed from being locked in a car.
The following penalties apply depending on whether the pet:
Suffered from being trapped in a hot car
- $5 500 fine
- Up to six months in jail
Died from being trapped in a hot car
- $22 500 fine
- Up to two years in jail
What can you do?
The first question you need to ask is whether the dog is in danger. While we support no dogs being left in an unattended car ever, check the vehicle and the dog to see if they are actually in danger.
A dog suffering from heatstroke will present the following symptoms:
- Excessive panting and/or salivation
- Bright red or bluish-purple gums from lack of oxygenated blood
- Is in clear distress or trying to escape
If the dog is non responsive, bang firmly on the car frame. Even if the dog is deaf, they will feel the vibration.
If the dog is in mild distress, write down the registration number and approach any nearby businesses asking for them to page for the owner of the car.
Check all the doors and windows to see if any are unlocked or able to be opened.
If you are concerned the pet is in immediate danger, or if the owner does not show up and the pet's condition is worsening, call the police. Even if a pet is in distress, breaking a window or damaging the car is considered a criminal offence regardless of your intentions.
You can also call the NRMA and/or the RSPCA. The NRMA may have a patrol officer in the area who is able to get to you sooner than the police. They can perform standard lock out procedures to release the animal even if you or the owner is not an NRMA member.
Dogs should never be left unattended in a vehicle, especially in hot weather. If a pet suffers or dies from such negligence, consequences include fines and imprisonment. If you see a pet is in danger from being trapped in a hot car, phone the local authorities immediately and wait by the car until help arrives.
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