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Leaving Dogs in the Car during the Summer

I want to share our recent experience about leaving dogs in the car. I hope that if anybody else is as oblivious as we were, you can learn from our experience and avoid the stress of living it yourself.

Traveling around with Dogs

We take the dogs with us nearly every time we go out of town. They rarely cruise around with us in town, largely because we are running quick errands and the house is more comfortable. However, if we go out of town overnight or need to run to Tucson, El Paso or Phoenix for errands, we take them with us. We do not really want to hire a pet sitter. Plus, they are AWESOME travel companions and I see no reason to leave them behind.

It has been hot since about March, so we travel with the air conditioner on. We also pack a lot of water and carry a dog bowl (and now a portable dog bowl for hiking). When we leave the car at a destination, we are in the habit of leaving dogs in the car with the air conditioner running. We carry an extra set of keys and manually lock the door from the outside.

Here, Trooper is loaded up, laying down and patiently waiting. Sydney is in the crate next to him. See the water jug?

Leaving Dogs in the car in the Summer

In some states or climate zones, you can probably get away with parking under shade and cracking a window. Or if you have a fierce looking dog who won’t go anywhere, you may roll the window all the way down. While some people do it in the hot Southwest, I would never do that with our dogs. First of all, I tend to leave valuables in the car so I’m not going to crack the window. AND, I find that the air conditioner on, windows shut method provides a much more enjoyable interior climate.

Some unthinking dog owners have been found guilty of animal cruelty for leaving dogs in the car during the summer in places like Phoenix. From my perspective, it is an unimaginable thing to do and the charges are likely accurate. If a person would not sit in a car, windows barely cracked, with no wind and in 110 degree weather, then how could it be safe for a hair-covered dog?

I’m not going to go into how much hotter it is in a car than outside a car. Anybody who has climbed in a car that has been sitting in the sun is aware of this dynamic.

Trooper is the sun rays in late February. He sometimes likes to lean against Sydney…he does not know it’s her though. He just thinks he is laying against the crate.

Our Experience Nearly Losing Our Dogs

For the past two years, we have been driving out of town to get certain grocery or household items that we cannot find locally. Because we tend to stay overnight, we haul the dogs (and usually Fred bird) with us and are comfortable leaving them in the car (with the AC running if it is hot).

This past weekend, we went into a grocery store, did our standard super-fast shopping, came out and discovered two people standing near our car. One was near Fred’s window and one was standing at the rear, gesturing angrily at the back of the car. I was expecting them to compliment us on our exotic and friendly bird, but instead, they lashed out with so much vengeance that we were literally rendered speechless.

Instead of repeating the caustic dialog, I will instead describe what we learned from them.

  • Their belief was that the dogs were suffering because they were in the car.
  • Their experience had taught them that cars at idle do not provide sufficient cooling.
  • They felt that since the surface of the outside of the car was hot, that it was surely hot inside.
  • The absence of a visible water bowl was evidence of animal cruelty.
  • The cops should be called so that somebody can break in and save them.
  • If cops had been on the scene, we could have lost our animals.
  • Dogs should not be walked outside when it is hot. Their paws can suffer.
  • If we leave our dogs unattended again, we should be aware that anybody can break into our car.

One of the reasons we shave our dogs (and brush out their undercoats) is to keep them cool and comfortable. We are a very active family and their health and well being are at the top of my priority list.

We were oblivious

While we loaded up our groceries, we found ourselves confused and uncertain. We thought of the hundreds of times we were guilty of leaving dogs in the car, both unattended and ‘attended’. I kept coming back to the fact that the air conditioner was running and Trooper was not even panting. How would sitting in the car with them be any different?

What if Trooper had been asleep (i.e. appearing to be un-alive) when they showed up? I don’t even want to think about what they would have done.

Perhaps we were oblivious because we are from Connecticut, where the weather is less harsh. In any case, I offered each dog water. Neither of them wanted it.

During our last grocery run, the box tower from the back collapsed forward, trapping Trooper in a column of space only as wide as his body. He did not care at all – he just stood up and looked out the window! We do not mistreat our dogs – in fact, look at all that dog hair we allow to accumulate on the seat!

Reflections while Driving Home

As I climbed into the car, I  redirected my vents to bypass me. As is always the case when the AC has been running for more than 5 minutes, it was frigid inside. Brian then provided the astute comment that in their social justice rage, they had neglected to think beyond their own experiences. How could they know the power of our AC at idle? Sure, some cars may produce a substantially lower amount of AC when idling. And indeed, ours is less powerful than when running. But it is more than sufficient. If the dogs are not panting and appear comfortable, we are not worried.


I am also aware that the ground can be too hot. And no, I do not leave water available for the dogs when I do a 15-minute run into a store. We are in the habit of watering and peeing/pooping them every couple of hours when we stop and stretch our legs.

I would really prefer that somebody not smash my car windows. I then have to replace them. And then all the animals are going to be in the hot outdoors.

I know that these people were speaking from a concerned place and that due to countless horror stories on the news (of which we are blissfully unaware because we do not watch/read/listen to it), they likely believe any example of leaving dogs in the car is certain to be abuse and stupidity.

The Law Process

This will vary from state-to-state so I highly recommend you look up the law in your own state. It appears that the law in Arizona previously stated that only law enforcement could break into a car. A concerned citizen could call in an example of someone leaving dogs in the car and the police would arrive. From what I found online, the officer would then use an infrared thermometer to obtain the car’s internal temperature. One page said that they assess the dog’s demeanor and take a temperature reading every three minutes. They will break into the car once the temperature crosses some threshold (90 or 95, depending on where you read).

I am 100% grateful that there are procedures and rules in place for keeping animals (and children) safe.

The New Law – Hero Civilians

The latest update, at least in Arizona, is that CIVILIANS can now break into your car. If they feel an animal is uncomfortable or in danger, they can smash your windows and remove your dog. The law is designed to protect Good Samaritans who break into cars to save a child or pet if they have “a good faith belief”. Note that nothing is said about a thermometer. And if our ‘good samaritans’ are any example, then touching the outside of the vehicle may be all the evidence they need.

After digging a little deeper, I found that the law states that the civilian must first contact law enforcement. You can read more about the various state laws here.


I was surprised by the whole encounter. It is surprising that someone would feel the need to tell me that hot pavement can hurt my dogs’ feet. I also find it surprising that someone would assume they understand my vehicle just because they have one of their own. Lastly, I am taken aback that there is little concern about theft with the new law. If someone can break into another car under a pretense, it seems like we could see more crime from this. I don’t know.

This incident happened over the weekend but has had some lingering effects. We almost did not take the dogs with us to Deming this week. I was both concerned about their comfort and paranoid about more samaritans. During our one hour long meal, I ended up checking on them THREE times. Each time I felt like an idiot because I would open the door and release all of the AC. While peaking through the window, I could see that they were comfortable. They would be looking around and not panting. But I had to touch them just to make sure they were okay. Door open, AC out, dogs okay. Geez Louise!

The take away message is to be wary about leaving dogs in the car, even if it is running. Our local experience is that Silver City is the land of dogs in cars – it seems that nearly 50% of the cars we encounter have dogs in the truck beds or inside the vehicle somewhere. And the Walmart parking lot is loaded with people who are okay leaving dogs in the car.

You will have to make your own judgement call. I know the law exists to protect dogs left in potentially deadly situations. But it does not have any stipulations about what kind of judgement skills concerned civilians must have in order to be able to smash into your vehicle and remove your animals.

Be careful and carry water!

Sydney gets in the car without any prompting. She does, however, require some coaxing to get her to look at the camera.