Will your beloved dog be okay if you leave him or her in the car? That’s a good question and an increasingly important one as the warmer weather arrives. It’s great to be able to take your dog with you places, but every summer we read horrible stories about dogs being baked to death in someone’s car. As someone who often takes dogs in the car with him, I have given this a good deal of thought. Here are some guidelines to help you make the right decision about leaving your dog in the car.
Ventilation: Good; Sun: Not so Good!
Rule #1: Think of your car as a sun-powered sauna.
It can get very hot very fast. This effect is so powerful that it is often possible to sit comfortably in a car with the heat turned off in the dead of winter so long as the sun is coming in the windshield. Those extra degrees of delicious free solar heat that we enjoy in the winter are magnified in the summertime and can be quite deadly. Remember that rear windshields are generally smaller and let in less sunlight than front windshields so it can help to park your car with the rear end toward the sun.
Rule #2: If you wouldn’t want to be in the car under those conditions, it isn’t okay to leave your dog there either.
Before leaving your dog, just sit there yourself for five minutes with your windows adjusted the way you plan to leave them (and of course the car and AC turned off). If it’s starting to get uncomfortable, don’t do it!
Rule #3: Things change.
Clouds disappear, the sun moves east to west and the shade moves west to east. If you aren’t aware of compass directions and the movement of the sun, don’t count on the shade to stay where it is because it won’t. If you are familiar with these things, think it through. Before you leave Daisy in the car, calculate where that shade is going to be in half an hour or whenever you plan to return. If you’re parked on the west edge of a shadow, the shadow will no longer be shading your car or your dog by the time you come back.
Rule #4: Air flow matters.
Cross ventilation is important, so open every window. Leave your windows open as wide as is safe for your dog’s security. One advantage of a trained dog is they’ll stay put even if it would be physically possible for them to jump out. If you have a sunroof, open it and rejoice! Hot air rises and a sunroof is quite close to the highest spot in the cab of your car. It will dump a lot of heat.
Rule #5: Check the forecast.
I virtually never leave my dog in the car if there is a chance of showers because the tendency is to close the windows too much. Also a warm day in early spring before the trees have leafed out can be problematic because the shade you are accustomed to finding in the summertime just isn’t there. Ditto a warm day in November. I hope you find this helpful, and if you’re not sure about leaving your dog in the car it’s probably best to leave her home.
Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center has a summary of state laws regarding leaving animals in a car: https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-laws-protect-animals-left-parked-vehicles