The American Veterinary Medical Association has interesting numbers on its website, showing how quickly the temperature rises in a parked car. On an 85-degree day, quite common in late May, a quick 10-minute stop at the store brings the car interior up to 104 degrees. But in July, 95 degrees outside and a 30-minute grocery shopping trip generate 129 degrees inside the vehicle. Spend time in an air-conditioned mall and 60 minutes later, the car will be at 140 degrees.
Almost everybody knows that leaving children unattended in a car is a criminal offense. In Georgia, it brings a charge of reckless conduct or second-degree child cruelty. Animals don’t have the same level of protection in our state. Georgia doesn’t come up in listings that show penalties for confining a pet in a hot car. By contrast, in the state of New Hampshire, a second arrest for endangering an animal in a vehicle results in a felony charge. More than two dozen other states have similar laws, which is a consideration for travelers. Even in Georgia, the absence of a specific “pet in car” law doesn’t mean a motorist can’t be charged with animal cruelty.
When a dog or cat is left in a parked car, it won’t simply be thirsty. PETA states that brain damage and even heat stroke are imminent after just 15 minutes. That’s less time than it takes to mail a package from the post office if a few people are standing in line, or – ironically – to buy a bag of dog food at the supermarket megacenter.
When traveling in Florida, there’s an additional twist for motorists who lock the dog in the car. The state doesn’t restrict forceful entry to law officers. Anybody who sees an animal in danger can call 911 and then use the necessary force to enter the vehicle and rescue the pet. This person will then be immune from prosecution. In other words, the person in Fernandina Beach who smashes a car window and gets the dog out while its owner was buying a smoothie won’t have to pay for the damage.
In this setting, the recent trend of declaring one’s pet a service animal, and taking it along everywhere, is actually beneficial. I’d rather see dogs in the drugstore than in parked cars.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.