Can I lock my dog in the car? What does the law say?
Think for a moment about your car; its shape, its glass structure, its interior size. That interior space has a big volume of air, its windows allow in a lot of sunlight.
When subjected to radiant heat, that air space becomes – and there’s no other way to put this – a furnace. And quickly. If you have to ask yourself ‘can I leave my dog in the car?’ it’s time to re-examine the question.
Data attained by local Australian motoring clubs shows that the ambient temperature inside a sealed car on a sunny 20-degree Celsius day can double in less than ten minutes, and rise to as much as 60 degrees C within 30 minutes.
If the temperatures are hotter, then the interior temperatures rise accordingly. Even on a sunny 15-degree C day, internal temperatures can reach dangerous levels. Even night temperatures can be too much if it’s a hot night.
As well, studies have shown that even cracking the windows open to cool the car is essentially ineffective, as temperatures will still quickly rise to 80 per cent of the maximum potential top temp.
While these temperatures are incredibly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for humans for a brief period, it’s much worse for dogs, who can’t process heat as efficiently as we can. In fact, the RSPCA in Victoria estimates a dog can die of heat-related causes in as little as six minutes.
Dogs left in cars are particularly at risk because they don't sweat, so they cool themselves by panting, exposing their tongue that acts as a radiator to cool the blood. If the air around them is too hot, especially if they don’t have access to water, a dog is physically unable to regulate its body temperature.
In the time it takes to grab a couple of things at the supermarket, a dog left in a hot car well may have already died an agonising death.
In short… leave your dog at home if you have to leave him or her unattended. If you’re caught leaving a dog locked in a car and causing it distress, you can be fined up to $50,000 or charged for animal cruelty by police or the RSPCA.
There’s no data around how many dogs die in hot cars, but the Western Australian RSPCA reported than 87 dogs had to be rescued from hot cars over a six-week period in the summer of 2017, while, unbelievably, similarly high numbers are recorded in other states.
The legalities around rescuing a dog in distress are complex – there is no particular ‘dog in car law’, and property damage is property damage, no matter the intention – but there are alternatives to breaking a car window.
Who to call if you see a dog locked in a hot car, then? The RSPCA and the RACQ both say phone the police on 000 or a motoring club’s breakdown line, because both bodies are equipped to quickly and safely open a locked car without the risk of flying glass injuring the dog or other people.
You can also call the RSPCA’s hotline 1300 CRUELTY, though only if the other options don’t work.
If there’s a way to cool the car down – hosing it with water helps, as does holding umbrellas over glass areas – that should be done as a matter of urgency, while the owner should be paged over PA system if the car is parked near shops - just remember the make, model and the car's registration number.
Confusing the issue is a law that’s enforced in Queensland and other states that requires a car to be ‘secured’ when unattended. A window gap of only up to 5cm is acceptable, but a fine can be levied if a window is left ajar and you’re more than three metres away from the car.
At the end of the day, this is an easy, common-sense recommendation to make; please, don’t leave your pet unattended in your car, no matter the circumstances. The potentially tragic outcome isn’t worth it.