Ask the Mountlake Terrace Cop: Dogs in hot cars


Mountlake Terrace Police Commander Kevin Pickard answers your public safety questions. This week: As the weather heats up, the dangers posed to dogs left in cars.


  1. Last month Ohio passed a law permitting citizens to break a car window if they felt a pet is in distress due to heat.

    In the Ohio bill there is a requirement that the police be called. However, it is not justifiable that a citizen stand by, waiting for help to arrive, and watch an animal die when an alternative exists, and the Ohio legislature wisely crafted a remedy.

    If you find yourself in a situation in which you truly believe that a pet’s life is in peril, BREAK THE DAMNED WINDOW.

    It is inexcusable for the MLTPD to expect a citizen to identify a pet at risk, call 911, then stand around and merely wait for an officer to respond and then decide which Slim Jim might work best to open the lock. The closed vehicle temperature chart highlighted in the video makes it clear that time is of the essence in dealing with this emergency. The recommended solution to the problem recommended by Commander Pickard is inconsistent with the reality of the situation at hand.

    My first three years in practice were doing primarily ER work in the Sacramento-Stockton area of California. I lost count of the number of pets presented to me in severe distress, or dead, due to excessive heat exposure.

    I have found the “Ask the Mountlake Terrace Cop” series to be generally useful but not in this case.

    You’re not going to just sit there if it’s a toddler strapped in a car seat in a closed vehicle. There’s no valid reason you should just sit there if it’s a dog, either.

    Robert Kramer, DVM


    • Here is a “Dogs In Hot Car” brochure from the geographically relevant British Columbia SPCA:

      The section on “Heatstroke symptoms” is sufficiently complete, although to that I would add that I would be particularly concerned if the pet:

      • is overweight and/or has thick fur. Either of these insulate the body and would increase heat retention and increase respiratory workload in an emergency situation.

      • is a brachycephalic breed. Think English or French Bulldog, Pug, Boston Terrier, and breeds with similar skull contours – these breeds are very popular in the Seattle area. They frequently have anatomic issues that plaque the airways and can make a dangerous situation far worse.

      • has a black fur coat. White reflects sunlight but black absorbs sunlight, which would further increase body temperature.

      • has been observed by you for awhile now and seems to be worsening.

      Here is the Ohio Senate Bill 215 text:

      These sections of bill text are particularly noteworthy;

      “(1) Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the animal to exit the vehicle.
      (2) Has a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the animal
      is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle and, based
      upon the circumstances known to the person at the time, the belief is a reasonable one.
      (3) Has made a good faith effort to contact the local law enforcement agency, the fire
      department, or a 9-1-1 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle . If contact is not possible prior
      to forcibly entering the vehicle, the person shall make contact as soon as possible after forcibly
      entering the vehicle.”

      There are certainly the intangibles of a situation. Did you see the driver leave the vehicle so you know when the heat “clock” started? Did you check to make sure no doors are unlocked? Did you call 911 and, if so, how long has it been and does the pet look worse? Do you really believe something bad is about to happen if you wait any longer?

      What bothered me in particular about the MLT News video is the apparent policy that after arriving the responding officer will try to unlock the vehicle themselves using one of a number of devices available to them, which I assume meets the goal of preserving the integrity of the vehicle. Would that be an acceptable response if a distressed toddler were strapped in a car seat in a locked hot vehicle? I have no idea as to whether MLTPD has a formal policy in place for these situations. To the extent that it might, I would suggest that if there is a difference between situations in which a toddler is locked in a hot car or in which a pet is locked in a hot car, that policy really should be revisited.


      • Mountlake Terrace animal control wanted to add the following: “Our state law does not support citizens breaking windows, and if they did the owner could press charges. Officers have that protection and the ability to safely access the dog should it be necessary.”


        • In May of last year, Gov. Inslee signed into law SB-5501, which reads in part:

          ” (1) It is a class 2 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120 to leave
          9 or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space
          10 if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive
          11 heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.
          12 (2) To protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal
          13 control officer or law enforcement officer who reasonably believes
          14 that an animal is suffering or is likely to suffer harm from exposure
          15 to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary
          16 water is authorized to enter a vehicle or enclosed space to remove an
          17 animal by any means reasonable under the circumstances if no other
          18 person is present in the immediate area who has access to the vehicle
          19 or enclosed space and who will immediately remove the animal. An
          20 animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or the department or
          1 agency employing such an officer is not liable for any damage to
          2 property resulting from actions taken under this section.
          3 (3) Nothing in this section prevents the person who has confined
          4 the animal in the vehicle or enclosed space from being convicted of
          5 separate offenses for animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or

          I’m pretty sure an owner facing animal cruelty charges in addition to a relatively toothless class 2 civiil infraction fine would have other things on his/her mind rather than suing a good samaritan for trying to save the life of an animal.

          Although perhaps I should ask which party the MLTPD would choose to cite: The owner who left a pet in peril and in doing so committed a specific infraction, or a citizen trying to do the right thing in an honestly perceived emergency situation?

          Law enforcement officers do have statutory protection in these situations. For citizens, the protection has to do with interpretations of Good Samaritan Doctrine. Oh, and common sense. For me that’s safety enough, particularly if the alternative to action is watching a pet suffer and perhaps die.


  2. I wouldn’t bet on the pet owner not trying to get money from a private citizen for the price of a new window (and possibly tinting and whatever else). There are no laws in this state that would protect a good Samaritan from getting sued.

    If you want the laws to change, talk to your legislators.




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