May 1st. The weather warms. Spring beckons us outdoors. Vacation season approaches. And the warnings about dogs in hot cars proliferate.
The danger is quite real. Leaving a dog, a cat, or a human inside a hot car can be fatal. Sadly, it will happen this summer. Please, please, please – do not let it happen to you.
Unfortunately, in this age of absolutes and extremes, there are always a few that take a real danger and extrapolate it well beyond reality.
This is such a story. A true story that happened to me several summers ago.
“How dare you!” The woman’s eyes boiled with rage. Her face was red. The veins in her neck bulged. “How dare you!”
I look up from the book I am reading. “Excuse me, ma’am?”
“What are those poor, abused dogs doing inside a car on such a hot day?”
Startled from their naps by her screams of rage, the dogs sleepily open eyes and watch the situation. One sits up, wondering if she has treats. None jump to my defense. Guard dogs, they are not.
She continues her rage. “They look like they are exhausted in this heat!”
“Well, yes, ma’am, they are tired. We have been hiking trails for the last several hours.”
“They should be home in the air conditioning.”
“We are headed home, but we don’t have air conditioning.”
She looked horrified, no doubt further convinced of the abuse heaped on the dogs with lack of air conditioning. I try to explain, “Ma’am, we live on the top of a mountain and only rarely see temperatures above 80º. We open windows and let nature provide air conditioning.”
“Well, well, well,” she sputtered at such nonsense. “You should have taken them home first and then run your errands.”
“Ma’am. Let me repeat. We live on the top of a mountain. It takes 30 minutes to get to any store. And 30 minutes back. That’s an hour just to go to a store, so we have to combine trips. They are quite used to it and are perfectly fine while we pick up a few things.”
“In this heat! You leave dogs in the car in this heat!”
“Uh, ma’am. It’s not hot. It’s 70º today.”
“Even in 70º weather, a car can reach 200º in five minutes.”
Trying to explain that her facts are wrong would have no value. Besides, my goal is not to educate her. It is to get her to leave me alone. I try another approach.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s why the car is parked under the shade tree. I picked the spot on purpose so the dogs would have shade.” I point at the giant oak tree, its hundred-year-old branches covered in a thick blanket of leaves. Not a single ray of sunshine was touching the vehicle.
“Shade doesn’t matter. The car heats up so fast from the parking lot.” Spittle flew from her lips.
I point at the ground under the vehicle. “Notice I am parked on the grass. The shady grass. Much cooler than asphalt parking lots.”
My explanations seem to make it worse. She was shaking and I was genuinely concerned she was going to have a coronary. I could see the headlines now – Heartless Dog Owner Murders Animal Rights Activist with Logic.
“Doesn’t matter. With no air circulating, it is like an oven. Those poor dogs are baking!”
Dumbfounded. “Ma’am. Look very carefully. It is a Jeep Wrangler. There are no windows. The windows are at home.”
She stared at the giant holes where windows could be zipped in to the ragtop. I could see her Facebook post later in the day, “I wanted to smash his windows and save those poor dogs, but there were no windows to break!”
“And, ma’am, also notice the doors are open. The dogs are in an open car. Parked on the grass. Under a shade tree. On a 70º day. I can guarantee you that they are not too hot.”
“Oh, yeah,” she sputtered. “How do you know? How do you know how hot it is in that car?”
The book I was reading is forgotten. I set it down on the dashboard, turn, and look over my shoulder at the dogs. They are looking at her with amused faces. I turn back to face her, grip the steering wheel, and shout, “Because I am sitting in the damn car with them! I stay with them to keep them safe while my partner goes into that store. That’s how I know how hot it is inside the car!”
Standing beside my driver’s door, she glares at me. She looks back at the dogs sitting behind me in the windowless Jeep with the doors open. Parked on the grass under the shade of a giant oak tree. On a 70º day.
Maybe, just maybe, I have finally convinced her. Maybe she is out of arguments. I feel victorious as she turns and stomps away.
Just as I relax, I hear her yell, “I am calling the police!”
Hope you enjoyed the story.
BUT, I also wanted to take a moment and reiterate – despite my humorous story – that there is a very real danger of enclosed cars. Here are some facts (Source – PEDIATRICS, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the website noheatstroke.org operated by one of those researchers). Research shows that – on a sunny day – the temperatures inside a closed car will increase:
- 19º in 10 minutes
- 29º in 20 minutes
- 34º in 30 minutes
- 43º in 60 minutes
Note that leaving the windows cracked by 1.5 inches will slow that increase rate slightly, but not much.
So while my antagonizer was incorrect about how hot it would get in my car in that situation, she would have had a point in a closed car parked in the sun even on a 70º day.