All dog owners have been in this situation: You want to run into a store for just a few minutes but you have the dog with you. Can you leave her? Should you? Is it safe?

Leaving a dog in the car is no small thing, even for just a few moments, especially when it's warm outside. The Humane Society notes that when it's just 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can hit 116 degrees within an hour. When it's 80 degrees out, the car can heat up to 99 degrees in only 10 minutes! It doesn't matter if you crack all the windows; the car still heats up like an oven. The danger is real, and within a matter of minutes, a dog's vital organs can start shutting down.

In fact, many states have laws against leaving a dog in a car, and many areas are getting more lenient about allowing people to break car windows to rescue pets without the threat of property damage charges. Store managers also have an obligation to call the police if they see a dog in danger, which may mean losing a patron. So how do dog owners avoid harming their dogs, and store owners avoid calling out their customers? Recently, there have been a few new ideas.

IKEA has a parking area for dogs. In a corner of one of the company's stores in Germany, there is an area where a dog can be tied in its own spot, complete with a raised bed covered in artificial grass and a water bowl. The dogs can lounge in cool comfort while owners shop. Hopefully the idea will be picked up in more locations, including stores in the hotter parts of the United States.

But these simple slots out in the open may leave some dog owners worried about notions like pet theft. An even better solution is The Barking Garage, which opened up a matter of weeks ago in the Gateway Shopping Center in northwest Austin, Texas.

The owner, Mary Traverse, is a chiropractor during the week; on the weekends, she's a dog lover with a creative solution for dog owners. Traverse wanted to provide a solution for shoppers, so she remodeled a car hauler, added air conditioning and kennels, and parked it in the lot of a shopping mall. She charges a small fee for caring for customer's dogs while they run errands.


The manager of the shopping center where The Barking Garage is parked on weekends was encouraging of Traverse's idea when she presented it. "Like all responsible mall management, they have to call the police if their security sees a dog in danger from the heat (or cold!) in a locked car, and they cannot find the owner," Traverse told MNN. "And the store managers, the merchants where the health department prohibits animals in a store, they hate telling patrons they have to leave because they have brought a dog into the store. So the mall management, store managers, and staff have all met us with an enthusiastic reception."

So too have customers. While not a lot of people have brought their dogs to The Barking Garage, the concept is only a few weeks old. Several people have come by to ask questions and seem interested in what The Barking Garage is all about.

"We have had a few customers, but we have only been open three weekends. We will open more hours as public awareness and demand grow. Shoppers come by and see the trailer, and they love the idea. We have given many tours! I am confident we will be busy as people come to realize what we do and that we are going to be there," says Traverse.

Many major retail stores allow customers to simply bring their dogs inside when they shop, including Home Depot, Lowes, some Pottery Barn locations, Macy's, and of course several pet stores like PetSmart and Petco.

In fact, you may be surprised to know the number of stores in your area that allow dogs inside. A simple call to the store to clarify the company's pet policy — before you arrive — will clear up any questions. For any store that's not a pet shop, however, you run the risk of making other shoppers uncomfortable or offended by your dog's presence. It tends to be a touchy subject. And of course, there are some stores, such as grocery stores, where pets are not allowed because of health codes.

The concept of stores providing safe places for dogs while their owners run errands is growing in popularity among customers and retailers alike.

"We have had so many requests from all over the country that we are developing a package with varying sizes of trailers that we can deliver at a reasonable cost to people who want to have their own Barking Garage," Traverse tells us. "We are dog lovers and would love to know there is a Barking Garage, using our safe methods and high professional standards, any place we need one around the country! It can change the face of travel with pets, and we are excited about that."

So stay tuned to a parking lot near you!

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.