A man in Athens, Georgia, recently made headlines after he was arrested for smashing a car window to rescue a dog trapped in a hot car.
"I've got PTSD, and I've seen enough death and destruction," Michael Hammons, a Desert Storm veteran told 11 Alive. "And I didn't want anything else to happen if I could prevent it."
Authorities later dropped the charges against Hammons, but his experience is a reminder as we head into the warmer months. While you may enjoy taking your canine companion for a ride during the dog days of summer, experts advise pet owners not to leave dogs, cats or any other pets unattended in the car.
On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car with the windows cracked can reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes, according to the Animal Protection Institute. In 30 minutes, the interior can reach up to 120 degrees.
Such temperatures can be deadly for dogs, which don’t sweat like humans do. Dogs cool down only by panting and drooling, meaning it's much easier for them to suffer from heat exhaustion.
Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in 15 minutes, so even a brief stop at the store could be deadly.
In 2012, Ernie Ward, a veterinarian at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina, spent 30 minutes in a hot car to demonstrate how dangerous it is to leave your pet unattended. By the end of the experiment, the car had reached 117 degrees even with all the windows open 2 inches.
What should you do if you see an animal trapped in a hot car?
Minutes count, so alert someone immediately.
If you know the owners, inform them that their pet is in danger.
If the animal is alone in a parking lot, take down the vehicle's color, model, make and license plate and ask nearby businesses to make an announcement to alert the pet owner. If possible, ask someone to keep an eye on the animal before you leave the scene.
If you're unable to locate the pet owner, call 911 or your local animal control office and someone will be dispatched to assist you.
Watch the animal for signs of heatstroke, such as excessive panting, drooling, trouble breathing, agitation, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of consciousness. If the animal appears to be in imminent danger, you can break the car window; however, first try to find a witness who will back up your assessment of the animal's health.
Keep in mind that it's illegal in some states to break a car window to rescue a pet, and even in those where it's illegal to leave an animal in the car, most rescues must be conducted by a law enforcement or animal control officer. You can check laws in your state here.
According to legal experts, citizens who break into a car to rescue a distressed animal may be protected by Good Samaritan laws, and Onondaga County (N.Y.) District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told The Post-Standard "there's absolutely no way in the world we'd prosecute someone for trying to save the animal." He said the worst-case scenario would be a civil matter, not criminal charges. But again, laws and attitudes vary by state.
If you rescue a pet you suspect is suffering from heatstroke, get the animal into an air-conditioned vehicle and take it to a veterinarian immediately.
If you don't have an emergency hammer or another item on hand to break the window, you could always use a sparkplug as demonstrated in the video below.
Editor's note: This story was originally written in 2012 and has been updated with new information.