Local experts give words of advice when encountering dogs in hot cars

INDIANAPOLIS - If you're an animal lover, it's hard not to get fired up when you see a dog trapped in a seemingly hot car. Local authorities advise you not to take matters into your own hands, however, but rather let them do the work.

You may have heard about a man in Georgia who recently was arrested after smashing the window of a car to free a small dog left inside.

On a 70-degree day, local experts say after just 10 minutes, a car with closed windows can reach 90 degrees inside. After 30 minutes, it can climb to 100 degrees.

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So, while the Georgia man's heart may have been in the right place, that's not the choice you should make here in Indiana if you walk up to a car with a panting dog inside.

Deputy Chief of Enforcement Operations Kim Wolsiffer at Indianapolis Care and Control (IACC) says if you think a dog needs to be rescued from a vehicle, call the non-emergency number for local police. In Indianapolis, that's IMPD's non-emergency dispatch number, which is (317) 327-3811.

Wolsiffer said IMPD will then usually send both police department officers to the scene, and will contact IACC so it can get supervisors there as well.

Wolsiffer says although there is no hard-and-fast rule on how her agency responds and doles out punishment in these situations, leaving a dog in a car is an outright care-and-treatment issue, and is not acceptable.

IACC supervisors are equipped with infrared thermometers when they respond to calls of dogs in hot cars to get evidence of the actual temperature of a vehicle. Then comes the task of saving the dog.

"If (that car) is at a business, next we try to find the owner using the car's license plate," Wolsiffer said. "We try to get the owner out to fix the problem immediately."

Usually, Wolsiffer said, the owner of the car doesn't know the rules and is apologetic, or can prove they were only away from the car a few minutes. If the officers find there was no harm done and the pet owner now knows the rules, a verbal warning is all that's needed. 

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If there are issues, however, such as the pet not being properly tagged or vaccinated, that's when the IACC begins considering citations.

And if they can't find the owner?

"We need the assistance of IMPD, but we will obtain a warrant if necessary and essentially break into the vehicle," Wolsiffer said. "We've been known to pop locks and even break windows."

The dog is taken back to Animal Care & Control to cool off and wait for its owner. When the owner returns, he or she most likely must pay an impound fee.

Wolsiffer said they usually don't see worst-case scenarios, but if the situation escalates and they find someone who shouldn't even be in possession of a pet, they go higher with their punishment.

"Depending on the severity of the situation, we can hold an animal until we go to court, and let a judge take over," Wolsiffer said.

"We use witness evidence (along with our own) to take to court to charge that person with animal cruelty" and/or take the dog away, she said.

Overall, Wolsiffer said police and the IACC want the community to know: If you see a dog in a car and you're even slightly worried, call. Better safe than sorry.

"I'd much rather have to deal with apologizing to an individual (a pet owner), knowing I can justify the reason we broke into the vehicle, than to not know about the situation at all," Wolsiffer said.

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Follow Lydia Williams on Twitter: @LydiaRTV6

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