I Wonder: Is it illegal to leave your pet in a hot car?

I Wonder: Is it illegal to leave your pet in a hot car?

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I Wonder: Is it illegal to leave your pet in a hot car?

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by TRAVIS PITTMAN / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on July 19, 2010 at 9:50 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 2 at 10:58 AM

"What are the laws are concerning leaving your dog in an automobile unattended. Is there a certain temperature limit? No temperature limit, if you say have an SUV and leave windows down with food and water and bedding for them? Or are there even any laws at all?"

Abraham

Every time it heats up, you hear the warning: Don't leave your pets alone in your car. Because dogs and cats don't perspire like we do, much of that excess heat stays inside them. It can lead to serious conditions, including brain damage or death, in a matter of minutes.

There are no specific laws in Washington state related to the temperature when it comes to pets left in cars on hot days. But, pet owners can leave themselves open to prosecution under Washington's animal cruelty laws, which covers pain, injury or death to an animal by means of undue suffering.

Amber Chenoweth, spokesperson for Pasado's Safe Haven, says you can be charged with first-degree animal cruelty if your pet dies or ends up with long-term health problems from being left in a hot car. It can be second-degree animal cruelty if the animal has short-term problems, such as simple discomfort.

First-degree animal cruelty is a Class C felony in Washington state and can be punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Second-degree animal cruelty can potentially be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. In both cases, you can be banned from owning animals in the future.

How hot is too hot?

Chenoweth says part of the problem is that people who live here are complacent about the weather.

"The danger is we live in Washington, where we're used to cooler temperatures." Chenoweth says the first way to know if it's too hot for your pet is to put yourself in their paws.

"If it's 60 degrees and you're hot while wearing a coat in your car, is that comfortable for you?" she asks. That's what it's like for your dog or cat.

Chenoweth says on a 70 degree day in the shade, the interior of a car can reach 90 degrees. In the direct sunlight it can reach 160 degrees.

How well a dog handles the heat is a case-by-case deal, because it depends on how hot it is what kind of dog it is.

"A short-nosed breed, such as a Boston Terrier or a Boxer, is a lot more prone to heat stroke because they don't pant as effectively as those with normal-length noses," says Chenoweth.

She also says don't get into the mindset that you're just running into the bank for a minute and will be right back.

"You never know what will happen to you. What if you get caught up in a long line in the bank?" she says.

As for Abraham's question on leaving the windows down with food, water and bedding in the car, Chenoweth says "It's definitely a good thing to do, but if it's over 60 degrees, people can't look at that as to whether that is going to save (their pet)."

For more perspective about how hot it can get in your car, take a look at this video of an experiment KING 5's Allen Schauffler did during our last heat wave.

If you have a question for the KING 5 web staff, send it to iwonder@king5.com.  Do not post your question in the comment section. Please include your first name and where you are writing from so we can post it with your question. We will not post your last name or any other information. 

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