Animal Rights
Animal Rights

California Wants to Stop Dogs from Dying in Hot Cars

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

California Assemblyman and DMV team up to stop deaths of dogs in hot cars  


As summer weather engulfs Southern California, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino announced that  he and CA Department of Motor Vehicles Director George Valverde share concerns about dogs left in unattended vehicles, especially in hot weather, and the tragic injuries or deaths that  result each year. They believe they’ve found an effective way to provide badly needed education on this hazard to pets and at the same time advise motorists about State laws, without spending any additional tax dollars. This will be done by placing an advisory in the California Driver Handbook, which is updated annually on-line and printed in nine languages. 

Assemblyman Portantino—whose 44th District extends from La Canada/Flintridge into parts of Los Angeles—announced  that he decided to pursue adding a warning in the DMV handbook about the dangers of leaving pets in cars as the result of a suggestion by Phyllis Daugherty, Director of Animal Issues Movement. He stated:  

“My message to pet owners is that cars heat up fast. If the weather is warm, a pet must never be left in a closed vehicle, or even in one where the windows are partially open. In fact, there are significant dangers to leaving any animal in an unattended vehicle at any time. This is why I have worked with the DMV to include language about the danger of pets in cars, just as they provide educational information on leaving unattended children in vehicles, and also to warn drivers that it is against the law to leave any animal in a vehicle in unsafe conditions.”

In a  response to the Assemblyman, DMV Director Valverde wrote, “…I appreciate your sharing your concerns about animal abuse…the DMV staff determined that the spirit of your suggested wording has great merit. Language regarding animal safety in vehicles will be incorporated into the “Health and Safety” section of the 2011 California Driver Handbook.”

Portantino added, “I am grateful to Phyllis Daugherty for bringing this matter to my attention and  also to Madeline Bernstein of the SPCALA, who assisted in this effort.” 

California is the first state to utilize its driver handbook to provide education on animal-protection laws  as  they relate to highway or vehicle safety. In 2001, Sen. Edward Vincent of Inglewood authored SB 237, also sponsored by Animal Issues Movement, which added to the California Driver Handbook the admonition regarding abandonment of animals on streets and highways and  warned motorists of the fines and penalties that apply under State law.

 The recent announcement by Assemblyman Portantino is especially timely because it coincides with the second annual “Dogs in Hot Cars” campaign initiated by Animal Cruelty Case Coordinator Deborah  Knaan of  the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office ([email protected]), who designed a poster that has been widely used, depicting a small dog in an oven and admonishing: “Hot Oven, Hot Car—It’s the Same Thing.” 

So, how long can a dog be left in a car on a warm day, and how much hotter is it inside the car than outside?  Even one minute in a closed or hot car can be long enough to severely  harm or kill your pet! A dog’s normal temperature is from 101 to 102.5. Inside a closed car, even on a fairly cool day, your dog’s temperature can elevate to 106 or 107 very quickly. That is usually fatal to the dog within a very short period.

A study from Stanford University shows that even on comparatively cool days, such as 72 degrees, a car's internal temperature will rocket to 116 degrees within 60 minutes. And keeping the windows open a crack hardly slows the rise at all. 

Excellent information on "How Hot Cars Get" and links on exactly what happens to a dog that overheats can be found at . Veterinarian Cate Rinaldo, a volunteer with United Animal Nations, reminds us that dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies like humans. The main way they cool off is by panting, which isn't very efficient. Once a dog's body temperature gets over about 106, she says, “...the result is everything from nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, systemic organ failure. And it happens fast--within a matter of minutes.”

 Assemblyman Portantino also reminds motorists that leaving a dog in a hot car in California is a  violation of the CA Penal Code. The initial penalty for violation can be steep—up to $500 and/or six months in jail, or both.  If the animal is badly injured or dies, it can result in felony charge for animal cruelty. “Let’s remember that no matter how much we want to take our dog for a ride, it may not be the wise thing to do in the summer, and no animal should ever be left in a closed, unattended vehicle.” 

What do you think? Will placing this information in the CA Driver Handbook help save more pets from roasting in hot cars? Is this a good way to educate drivers who come to California from other states or from countries where laws do not protect animals in vehicles? Do you believe it will make the next generation of motorists more aware that a car soon becomes an oven in hot weather?