As Memorial Day approaches, families are planning weekend trips and barbecues. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer for many and rising temperatures are on the way. Some may plan to take pets with them on trips, but leaving animals in the car can be deadly.
Temperatures are expected to reach 70 degrees on Monday, May 30 and climb through next week. Though 70 degrees feels pleasant outside, it can lead to temperatures climbing to an uncomfortable 89 degrees inside a car in just 10 minutes and over 100 degrees within a half hour, which can be deadly.
In addition to being dangerous for pets, locking pets inside a car can also land a dog owner in legal trouble. MLTnews asked Mountlake Terrace Animal Control Officer Elena McKee how they respond to calls involving dogs locked inside cars:
MLTnews: What should I do if I see a dog locked in a hot car?
Elena McKee: Call 911 if the dog is in distress or communicate your concerns with the driver if the dog seems in good health. Do not break windows! The police department will attempt to unlock the car doors with door lock manipulation tools.
MLTN: What are some things you look for when responding to a report of a dog in a hot car?
EM: Looking for ventilation and available water; physical condition of the dog (is it responsive or not, panting or not, is the dog lying somewhere easily accessible or is it trying to find the lowest part of the vehicle to cool off.)
MLTN: What is the minimum and maximum punishment for the dog’s owner for leaving the dog locked in the car?
EM: I will cite the Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code and Revised Code of Washington: MTMC 6.30.030 D. Confine any animal without adequate water, aid and/or food or in a confinement in which the animal is subject to extremes of heat or cold; for example, but not limited to, confinement within an automobile without adequate ventilation or protection from extremes of temperature. Gross Misdemeanor, up to 1 yr and/or $5000 fine
RCW 16.52.340 Leave or confine any animal in unattended motor vehicle or enclosed space—Class 2 civil infraction—Officers’ authority to reasonably remove animal.
(1) It is a class 2 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120 to leave or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.
(2) 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.
(3) Nothing in this section prevents the person who has confined the animal in the vehicle or enclosed space from being convicted of separate offenses for animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or 16.52.207.
MLTN: Will the dog be returned to the owner?
EM: If it is necessary for the dog to be medically treated, the dog will be held throughout the prosecution. At that point the judge will make the decision. Generally, if the dog does not require medical treatment then it will be returned to the owner. But all cases are handled at the discretion of the officer and if the officer feels that it is necessary to seize the dog for its protection they are able to do so, and the case will be investigated and handled appropriately. Only a judge can make a final determination to permanently remove the dog.
MLTN: Do you have anything else to add?
EM: All dogs react differently to heat, just as people do. The young and old could be more easily compromised and suffer from heat stroke. Available water and ventilation are vital but do not counteract high temperatures. Even 70 degree days can become too hot over time inside a car. Symptoms of heat stroke are not immediately visible and often when they are it can be too late to save the animal. Internal organs can literally cook inside the body and cannot be repaired. Please leave them in the comfort of their own home!