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Why Are People Still Leaving Dogs in Hot Cars?

23 July 2014

ANALYSIS - Many people were shocked this week to hear of a dog left locked in a car on the hottest day of the year. Shocked by the blatant example of animal cruelty, or shocked that people still do this, despite endless warnings of the dangers?

As I pull up on my drive and turn off the ignition, the air-con goes off too.

Within a few seconds I can feel the heat rising and I rush to get out of the car and back into the shade.

I am not a dog owner, but I know that in no uncertain terms would I leave any pet in the car, no matter how quickly I thought I would return.

On Saturday, police were forced to smash their way into a car in Finsbury Park, London, after spotting a dog cowering on the pedals, desperately trying to cool down.

the dog was captured cowering in the footwell on the driver's side of the car
The dog was captured cowering in the footwell on the driver's
side of the car after being left locked inside on Saturday.
Click photo to enlarge
Copyright: @MPSBrownswood

Sadly, this story is all too familiar, with a handful of these cases making the press every summer. So why do people continue to take the risk?

The AA has disclosed that the number of potentially fatal incidents involving dogs trapped in cars has risen by over 50 per cent in the last six years.

What does the law say?

In the UK it might not be illegal to leave your dog in a car, but it is illegal to mistreat or abuse an animal in your care, which leaves quite a grey area.

Leaving your dog in a hot car is deemed animal neglect under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and you may face a fine.

Currently in the UK, if a dog suffers or dies as a result of being left in a hot car, their owner can be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Successful prosecution for neglect or cruelty can lead to jail time, fines and being banned from keeping animals in the future.

Can I lawfully smash a window to save a dog's life?

Noticing a dog trapped in a car on a warm day can also be very stressful for passers-by as it places them in an impossible situation.

According to VioVet, the law states that you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if:

'at the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence you believed that the person or persons whom you believe to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question would so consent to it if s/he had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances' (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971).

In plain English this means:

  • Yes, you can if it means saving the life of a dog.
  • No, you can't if the dog is not in immediate danger.

Never assume

Research by the Dogs Trust shows that despite being a nation of dog lovers, more than one in four UK dog owners admitted to leaving their dogs unattended in cars.

Astonishingly almost half of us (48 per cent) believe it is ok to leave a dog in a car if counter-measures are taken, such as parking under a tree or leaving a window open.

Unfortunately, this is a myth - in reality partially lowering the window has no significant effect on the temperature inside a parked car.

labrador in car
Even if the weather outside is mild, cars can accumulate heat in a matter of minutes.
Copyright: Blinka

The RSPCA warns that an outside temperature of 22°C can easily reach 47°C (inside a car) within 60 minutes.

According to Dogs Trust, a dog left in a hot car can die in just 20 minutes if its body temperature rises above 41°C.

Because of the rapid temperature rise, all it takes is 15 minutes for a dog to succumb to the heat and die.

If it doesn't die from heatstroke or suffocation, it is very likely to suffer brain damage.

If you see a dog in a hot car, it is best to call the police or the RSPCA's 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234999.

Gemma Hyland, Editor

Gemma Hyland, Editor

Top image via Shutterstock

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