THE summer heatwave poses a real threat to dogs and other pets if they are left trapped in vehicles, especially if the windows are shut.
Are they committing a crime? Here's our guide to the law in the UK and what you should do if you see a dog trapped in a car suffering.
Is it illegal to leave a dog in a hot car?
According to the RSPCA, Britons could end up with a criminal record if something happens to their dog after it's left alone in a car.
It is not illegal to leave a pet unattended in a vehicle.
But if the animal becomes ill or dies as a result, you could be charged with animal cruelty.
If convicted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, drivers can be jailed for six months and slapped with an unlimited fine.
In May 2017, a motorist was given an 18-week prison sentence suspended for two years, banned from keeping animals for ten years and ordered to pay £1,900 in fines after his three dogs died.
Jonathan Theobald, 66, had left the pets in his car for five hours and said he "misjudged the weather very badly".
At what temperature is it safe to leave dogs in cars?
Motorists should be more aware of the dangers of leaving pets shut in a car.
But even in normal weather, a car can quickly become "as hot as an oven".
A car sitting in 24C conditions outside can reach 34C in just ten minutes, and a dangerous 43C after half an hour – making it risky to leave your pet alone even for a short time.
Some people think leaving the window open a crack or parking in the shade is enough to keep a dog comfortable.
But the RSPCA warns even with those measures a car can become like a sauna very quickly.
When the temperature is a relatively cool 22C, the inside of a car can rise to 47C in just 60 minutes.
The RSPCA's website warns: “Many people still believe that it’s OK to leave a dog in a car on a warm day if the windows are left open or they’re parked in the shade, but the truth is, it’s still a very dangerous situation for the dog.
“A car can become as hot as an oven very quickly, even when it doesn’t feel that warm.”
In June 2018, two police officers in York were forced to smash a car's window to free two Labradors left for half an hour in 28C heat.
What should you do if you see a dog in a hot car? Is it legal to smash the window?
An estimated three million British motorists said they wouldn't intervene if they saw a dog locked in the car on a hot day, according to a Confused.com poll.
The research found just one in 100 passersby would attempt to break into a car to rescue a dog in distress.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “Even if the temperature doesn’t feel particularly warm outside, the inside of the car can get very hot, very quickly.
“But we know it can be difficult for the public to know what they can or can’t do if they come across a dog left alone in a hot car, and so we’ve created a guide to help through the steps to take, starting with assessing how the dog is reacting to the heat.
"Whether or not they are showing signs of overheating, we strongly urge passersby to look for the owners, or even call 999 and save the pooch’s life.”
And according to Ask The Police's guidelines, the first thing you should do if you see a dog looking distressed trapped inside a vehicle is call the police.
It is best not to try and gain access to the car forcibly but if the police aren’t able to attend you may be entitled to take action.
What to do when you see a distressed dog trapped in a car
1. Call the police and ask for their assistance
2. If the police can't attend but the dog is in desperate need of help you may consider taking further action
3. Explain to the police what you intend to do
4. Take a photo of the dog trapped in the car
5. Take the name and number of any witnesses
6. If you do forcibly gain access to the car you should be willing to defend your actions in court
Before smashing a car window, there are some steps you can take first.
If the dog isn't displaying signs of heatstroke, try and establish how long it's been in the car. A pay and display ticket may help.
If there are shops nearby, get a staff member to make an announcement including the car's registration number.
Stay with the dog, or try and get someone else to if you can't.
The RSPCA advises concerned onlookers to dial 999 if the animal is displaying signs of heatstroke.
If you believe there is no other option than smashing a window, you should call the police and explain what you intend to do.
You may be asked to defend your decision in court, so you should take photos of the dog and get names and numbers of any witnesses.
In England, section 5(2)(a) of the Criminal Damage Act of 1971 says you are allowed to damage someone else’s property when: “At the time of the act or acts alleged to constitute the offence you believed that the person or persons whom you believe to be entitled to consent to the destruction of or damage to the property in question . . . .would so consent to it if s/he . . . had known of the destruction or damage and its circumstances.”
What are the signs of heatstroke in a dog?
- Panting heavily
- Drooling excessively
- Appearing lethargic, drowsy or uncoordinated
- If the dog is collapsed or vomiting
For more information you can contact the RSPCA’s specialist helpline on 0300 1234 999.
For more on caring for your dog in the summer check out our tips on how to keep your pet cool in the hot weather.
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