What to do if you see a pet locked in a hot car

SPOKANE, Wash. - As summer officially begins tomorrow, we're reminded of an issue that comes up every year when it gets hot out: leaving pets in cars, and what to do if you see an animal locked in a hot car. 

First of all: As you head out of the house, if you know you're going somewhere that doesn't welcome your pet inside, law enforcement asks that you just leave your pet at home. 

Because even if you think it's not that hot, the temperature in your car can quickly jump much higher than it feels outside.

According to the Seattle Humane Society, when it's 70 degrees outside, the temperature in your car can get up to 89 degrees in just 10 minutes. In a half hour, it can be over 100 degrees. 

And if it's 80 degrees, as it is on most summer days in Spokane, the temperature inside your car can get to 114 degrees in 30 minutes. 

Most of us understand the risks associated with leaving an animal in that kind of heat. But what should you do if you see that someone else has left their pet in the car?

It can be tempting to want to take matters into your own hands. But according to Washington State Law, only animal control officers or law enforcement officers are allowed to enter a vehicle by any means necessary without facing liability for any damage. 

RCW 16.52.340 states: “To protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal control officer or law enforcement officer who reasonably believes that an animal is suffering or is likely to suffer harm from exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water is authorized to enter a vehicle or enclosed space to remove an animal by any means reasonable under the circumstances if no other person is present in the immediate area who has access to the vehicle or enclosed space and who will immediately remove the animal. An animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or the department or agency employing such an officer is not liable for any damage to property resulting from actions taken under this section.” You can read the full text here

For everyone else, though, you can be held liable for any damages. 

According to a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, "Just because you’ve someone committing this crime, does not mean you can take any means necessary to help that animal," said Shari Ireton. "That dog could run away, jump out the window, could get hit by a car, could get lost. So, all of that… the person who broke that window is now liable for."

The right thing to do is call 911. Or, in Spokane county, call Crime Check at 509-456-2233. 
Before you do, though, make sure you know your location and take down the make, model, and license plate number of the car the animal is in.

Leaving any animal locked in a vehicle is a Class 2 Civil Infraction, which can be punishable by a fine of up to $125.00. 

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