How to keep your pets safe in the car

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Family transport these days often includes ‘four-legged’ family members: our pets. In summer, of course, there’s a higher than normal danger of heat stroke for (in particular) dogs left in cars for only short periods, writes John Cadogan.

According to the RSPCA, the temperature inside a car can reach 50 degrees C in just five minutes – even when the temperature outside is only moderate. When the RACQ conducted a test on this, the outside temperature was 32.5 degrees C – so, hardly a summer scorcher.

Celebrity chef Matt Moran recently performed a graphic test showing just how hot cars get in summer – by roasting some lamb using only the ambient heat in a locked car at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. The temperature peaked at 83 degrees C, and according to Mr Moran, both sides of lamb were “totally overdone” after just 90 minutes. (This exercise was conducted with Kidsafe, to highlight the same dangers facing children left in hot cars.)

The RSPCA says dogs suffering heat stress get restless, as well as panting and drooling. They can also stagger and experience vomiting, diarrhoea or seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, according to the RSPCA, requiring an urgent assessment by a vet. First aid involves bringing the dog’s temperature down steadily – by spraying cool water on the dog and using a fan (if available). Ice water is not recommended as the temperature change can be too rapid if the water is too cold. More information on first aid and heat stroke prevention can be found here.

There are penalties for leaving pets in cars. Causing pets to suffer is a crime, and the penalty can be as much as $5500 and six months in jail. If the pet dies as a result of this mistreatment, the penalty jumps to $22,500 and up to two years in jail.

However, there is a wrinkle in this pet safety story: let’s say you are walking down the road and you see a pet locked in a car, apparently suffering. Are you entitled to break the window and rescue the animal? According to Chris Jager, an editor at lifehacker.com.au, it’s technically illegal to rescue the pet by breaking the window. Mr Jager says there’s no explicit legal immunity from wilfully damaging someone else’s property – even if your motivation is the honest, altruistic salvation of the animal.

If the dog is not suffering, rescuing it may be completely unjustified. But even if it is, whether you are ultimately charged with a property damage offense might be up to the discretion of a police officer in charge of investigating the matter – if it gets that far. (Of course, the owner of the dog might be very reluctant to involve the police, as their own negligence in respect of their pet might be heavily scrutinized, and subject to the penalties above.)

Perhaps the best course of action, provided the pet is not in what appears to be imminent danger of succumbing, is to call triple zero and outline the problem. Don’t worry – a dog trapped in a hot car is well inside the remit of an emergency services response.

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