Dogs in hot cars – is it illegal to smash the window?

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As the temperatures have been steadily rising over recent weeks and despite the plethora of information shared across social media about the dangers of leaving pets in cars, the press continue to report stories of young children and dogs being rescued from vehicles.  In fact, just weeks ago during the Easter bank holiday weekend, the RSPCA received 166 emergency calls regarding animals that had been left suffering in the heat.

While our gut instinct may be to smash the window to get to the individual trapped inside, you could be at risk of prosecution.

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So what should you do?

  • If you see a dog in a hot car, you should dial 999 to report this to police.  Often the RSPCA are unable to attend quickly enough to the scene and, have no powers of entry without police assistance to get into a car without the owner’s permission.  Only call the RSPCA once you’ve notified the police, the RSPCA’s 24-hour emergency line is 0300 1234999.
  • Stay with the vehicle.  Observe the animal to check if it is displaying any signs of overheating.  See below for the signs of heat stroke.
  • If the situation becomes critical and the police have yet to arrive, be sure to tell the police of your intentions to break into the car and take photos or footage of the dog, and note down the names and contact details of any witnesses.  This information will be crucial, because without proper justification, breaking into the vehicle without the owner’s consent could be classed as criminal damage.  However, you have a lawful excuse to commit damage if you believe that the owner of the property (the car) would consent if they knew the consequences – in this case – the dog was in extreme danger.
  • Quickly get the dog out of the car and cool it down.  Move the dog to a shaded area, cool the dog down with water and let them drink small amounts of it.  Ensure the water is cool but not cold as this will help avoid shock.
  • If the dog is OK and not displaying any signs of heatstroke, find someone to stay with the dog as it rests while you note down the car’s registration details and establish how long the animal was in the car, while you wait for police assistance.

Signs of heat stroke

If a dog is displaying any signs of heatstroke, it’s vital you call 999 immediately, as this is a serious emergency and overheating can be fatal.  Furthermore, some breeds and / or types of dog are more prone to heatstroke, such as puppies and elderly dogs, as well as those with thick, heavy coats and brachycephalic dogs (e.g. pugs, bulldogs, King Charles Cavaliers and so on).

Below are some of the typical signs of overheating:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Malcoordination
  • Vomiting
  • The dog has collapsed

For further advice on how to avoid overheating when out and about or at home, read our hot weather safety tips for pet owners.  Stay safe in the sunshine and enjoy this lovely weather.

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