How not to rescue a dog from a hot car or truck

A dog, previously locked in a hot car, is cooling off in a deputy’s car awaiting its owner. Diane Sieker photo

This event occurred in Hemet a couple of weeks ago. It began with a pair of women noticing a small lap dog locked in a truck with the windows cracked. It was just under 80 degrees at the time. First, the ladies milled around, speaking loudly, hoping someone would notice. They were advised to call 911 since they were concerned with the well-being of the animal. They made the call. So far, so good.

But their frustration grew when the police did not arrive promptly enough for them. They used straws to flick water into the truck through the partially opened window, drenching the seats.

One woman got louder and louder, her voice reaching a trembling, shrill tone as she pleaded with passersby to break the window. She tried herself but was not strong enough to do it. Meanwhile the dog barked at her, frightened by her actions.

The women called Riverside County Animal Services for help. The shrill woman called 911 again, arguing loudly with the dispatcher that the cops were slow and uncaring. The dog was dying, no one was responding and even Animal Services did not seem to care. Her tone quickly became hysterical.

Meanwhile, the dog did not appear to be in undue distress from the heat. It seemed as if it was more scared of all the commotion.

Then the woman convinced a couple of men to break into the truck. They used a piece of metal rod located in the back of their truck, bent it to make a “slim jim” tool and managed to open the locked driver’s door and make their getaway before the owner showed up.

It was at this point that I called Riverside County Sheriff’s Non-Emergency Dispatch and informed them that they were going to have a violent situation on their hands when the owner did indeed return to his truck. The dispatcher informed me that a unit was en route.

The deputy arrived and immediately assessed the situation. The lady was holding the dog in her arms, and he asked her to give the dog to him.

“You cannot take property from someone else’s vehicle,” he informed her.

She replied that it was a dog, not property – she is wrong in the eyes of the law – and refused to surrender the animal to him. He politely asked her one more time, and she refused to let go of the dog, complaining that he did not appreciate that the animal was a living breathing, sentient being. He then deftly snatched the pooch from her and flicked it gently into the back seat of his air-conditioned cruiser. She yelled at him, accusing him of “throwing” the dog into the car. She continued to rant, and then…

The owner came roaring from across the parking lot, screaming, “What the **** are you doing to my truck?”

He was a rather large and tough-looking character, and he was not happy. This is what I was afraid was going to happen and was glad the deputy was there to keep everyone in line.

The ladies quickly disappeared. The owner and his elderly mother arrived to see his truck broken into, his seats all wet, his mother’s dog in the back of a police car and a police asking questions, while a crowd gathered.

Then Animal Control showed up. The owner was informed of the law that allows people to break vehicle windows if a dog is inside on a hot day. However, the officer did not think it was hot enough that day to warrant this action. He informed the owner that he could confiscate the dog but would not.

I was asked by the deputy to try to find the women as they did not leave, but went into a store in the center. I did as he asked, and when I found her, she was loudly telling everyone in the store about the heroic thing she did and that things like this were going to become more frequent because summer temperatures would continue to rise because President Trump apparently does not believe in global warming.

By the time she came back to the scene, the owner had been released, given the dog back and was last heard yelling at his mother about having to take the dog everywhere.

The deputy collected more information from her, asked me who the heck I was, wrote that down and went on his way.

What was the correct thing to do? This could have ended very badly, and not for the canine, who was actually in no danger on that day.

If you come upon an animal in a hot car, the first thing to do is alert the authorities in a calm, steady fashion. Call 911. Describe the vehicle, state the location and cooperate nicely with the dispatcher. Answer all questions to the best of your ability. Help will be on the way.

But sometimes law enforcement officers are doing things like apprehending crooks and other cop stuff and cannot respond immediately. In this case, the dog was not in distress and was not in imminent danger of expiring. The right thing to do would have been to wait, not vandalize the truck.

Involving other people to break into the truck and taking property – the dog – from it was not a good idea. The deputy told the woman that she was not allowed to take property from the truck.

California Assembly Bill 797, the law that allows for the breaking of windows of vehicles without civil and criminal penalties, also states that a citizen must first call law enforcement to report a situation in which they believes an animal to be in peril.

Then, if the animal is in imminent danger, the car is locked and law enforcement is not arriving quickly enough to save the animal’s life, the bill provides immunity from civil and criminal liability to a person causing vehicle damage for the purpose of rescuing the animal.

The ladies in this case put themselves in harm’s way due to the violent response of the owner. Think about that risk for a minute. It is much wiser to call law enforcement and let them handle it. Luckily, this ended well enough for all parties concerned.

And I am sure that dog will never get a ride in the truck ever again.

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