If your pet is experiencing severe heat stress or a heat stroke (symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, difficulty breathing, collapse, or a high rectal temperature) – these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
- DO NOT try to cool down your pet with ice water. Instead, apply soaked towels to belly, armpits, and inner thighs.
- It’s okay to turn air conditioning on in the car – but don’t blast it – as you transport pet to the vet.
- You can offer your pet cool water, but if your pet is not interested or is vomiting, do not force them to drink.
- If your pet is not showing severe symptoms, contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital and they will be able to help determine the degree of heat stress your pet is experiencing and provide recommendations for the next course of action.
It’s a hot, humid day. As soon as you walk out of the air-conditioned store, the sun hits your face, and you begin to sweat. Walking to your car, you hear it. Was that a dog? Then you hear it again – definitely a barking dog! As you approach the sound, you see a dog inside a car, barking, panting, and scratching at the window. Your first instinct may be to break the car window and tend to the pet.
We get it! However, before acting, you should also understand the reality of the legal situation in Minnesota. Unlike our neighbors in Wisconsin, Minnesota citizens do not have the protection of a Good Samaritan Law when breaking into a car to save a pet’s life. Concerned citizens who take action could face fines and legal repercussions for breaking into the car or taking the pet to a nearby animal hospital while leaving the car unsecured. We know that won’t influence the decision for many people, but we wanted to educate so pet lovers can make a well-informed decision and understand potential legal consequences.
Understanding the Danger
Let’s take a moment to review the medical side of this situation and why it’s so dangerous to leave a pet in the car. On a hot day, a car becomes an oven. Even if parked in the shade with the windows open a crack, the interior temperature of the car will continue to rise and bake whatever’s inside. Some pet owners leave the car running and the A/C on; however, we have seen several instances where the car stalls, leaving a dog in a hot car.
Pets cannot cool themselves by sweating but do so via panting. But excessive panting in a closed car will increase the humidity in the space, negating any cooling effect. The pet then gets hyperthermia – increased internal body temperature – or heatstroke if the body temperature is above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. An increased internal body temperature can quickly cause permanent organ damage and be fatal. Higher-risk pets include flat-faced breeds, Northern breeds, pediatric or geriatric pets, obese pets, and pets with medical concerns.
Warning Signs of Overheating
- Heavy panting
- Clawing at the window
- Foaming at mouth
- Bloody diarrhea
To learn more about how hot the interior temperature of a car can get, even if the outside temperature stays constant – check out this insightful video created by Dr. Ernie Ward, a public veterinary figure and pet advocate.
Time is critical. So, what should you do if you do see a pet in a hot car?
We chatted with the Oakdale Police Department to ask what they recommend concerned citizens do.
1. Call 9-1-1.
It’s vital for local law enforcement to assess the situation, because in Minnesota, only police can lawfully decide if forced entry is necessary to save a pet. From their standpoint, police DO NOT recommend that bystanders break into a vehicle and leave themselves open to liability in the event that certain specifications were not met.
So, regardless of whether you think it’s an emergency, immediately call 9-1-1. Supply the following information: the location of the vehicle within the parking lot, as well as the car’s make, model, and license plate, and the pet’s condition. If the pet’s condition worsens before help arrives, call back to update.
2. Locate the Owner if Possible
If possible, have others help alert businesses surrounding the car. Request that the business page for the owner of the vehicle. Have one person stay near the vehicle to watch the pet, provide updates to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, and wave down police when they arrive.
If the owner is located, inform them of the danger and the pet’s condition. Focus on the pet’s needs and helping the pet. Do not accuse or insult the owner. We understand this is a very frustrating event, but the information will be better received if information is shared respectfully.
A reminder from the police that your safety is a priority: please avoid potential fallout or confrontation with the pet owner that may jeopardize your safety or the safety of others. When the police arrive, they will assess the situation and determine any fines or charges.
3. Understand the Law
Excessive heat is life-threatening to a pet. For this reason, a pet owner who leaves a pet in a car on a hot day is breaking the law (Minnesota Statute 346.57) by endangering the animal’s health or safety. Bystanders have the full right to report the crime to local law enforcement.
These are the laws that police will reference, and they can potentially charge the pet owner with any of the following:
- Minnesota Statute 346.57 (Dogs and Cats in Motor Vehicles Law)
- Minnesota Statute 343 (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law)
- Minnesota Statute 346 (Minnesota Pet and Companion Welfare Act)
- 346.39: Dogs and Cats. Subd. 2: Water. Dogs and cats must be provided with clean, potable water in sufficient quantity.
- For our Wisconsin readers, click here for Wisconsin’s Crime Against Animals Statutes.
4. What Police Will Do
When police officers respond to a “pet in a hot car” call, they bring an Animal Emergency Care kit that includes appropriate tools and veterinary information. Upon arrival, police will assess the situation and determine the best course of action. When a pet is endangered, police will call for a backup squad.
If the pet is showing warning signs of overheating or a heat stroke, police are allowed to use reasonable force to enter the car and retrieve the pet. Police can then begin cooling efforts by gradually dropping the pet’s body temperature through any of the following means:
- Moving pet to a shaded area
- Offering fresh water (but not forcing the pet to drink)
- Drenching the pet in lukewarm water (but not cold, as this constricts blood vessels in the skin and slows the body’s ability to cool itself)
- Placing the pet in the squad car with the A/C on
- Bringing the pet to a nearby animal emergency hospital so the pet can receive necessary IV fluids and cooling measures.
If a backup squad is called, that officer will:
- Look for the owner and discuss the situation with them.
- If an owner is found, police will:
- Interview the owner
- Provide educational materials on the dangers of heat stroke in pets
- Inform of the laws that were violated
- If an owner is not found, police will:
- Impound the pet
- Impound the car
- Have the broken glass cleaned from the pavement
- If an owner is found, police will:
- Document the event and record evidence (vehicle’s interior temperature and temperature of seats, weather conditions, type of pet, and pet’s condition.)
- Interview the person reporting the incident and any other witnesses.
- Determine which laws were violated. The owner will then be charged with a petty misdemeanor, although other laws and penalties may apply depending on the specific situation and the pet’s condition.
Some of us would do anything to save a pet, no matter the fines and legal considerations. Police recommend that citizens discuss the urgency of the situation with the 9-1-1 dispatcher and follow instructions. In the event you decide to break a window, however, make sure to document the scene by promptly recording and photographing the pet’s condition in the car before taking further action. After the pet is retrieved, collect contact information from any other witnesses, and wait for police to arrive. Note: these actions may not protect you from fines or liability, but your evidence may prove helpful in any legal aftermath.
Please call 9-1-1 at once if you ever come across a pet left unattended in a car on a hot day. To address your concerns or thoughts on these laws, you can reach out to your local legislators.
- Animal Legal Defense Fund: An Avoidable Tragedy – Dogs in Hot Cars
- Summer Heat Risks for Pets
- Prevent Your Pets From Overheating