Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hot Dog!

Quick, get an ax! These abused dogs are going to die of heatstroke any moment!

A SAR trainee called today to ask me about laws prohibiting people from leaving dogs in parked cars.

Seems she was harassed by a strip mall security guard. As often happens, he invented a law that prohibits leaving a dog in a car. Ever.

Right ...

It appears that a lot of busybodies have internalized the wrong lesson from decades of proselytizing about the dangers of leaving animals in cars that could become hot.

The lesson is "I disapprove of this for reasons I cannot fully articulate, therefore, there ought to be a law, therefore, there is one. Burn the witch!"

Some of those busybodies are charged with enforcing "the law." And if there isn't a law corresponding to what Mrs. Grundy wants to enforce, she'll make one up on the spot.

The net effect is, of course, to de facto ban dogs from leaving their owners' property via the power of urban legend. Since the dog isn't permitted inside the store or restaurant (dem dawgs all carries the Ebola, ya know, and eats babees), and towns are designed to preclude walking anywhere, there's no way an owner can take Buddy to the park for a quick walk and some fetch, then stop for milk and video on the way home. Oh hell, I'll just go to the store, Buddy can have a walk next week ...

Don't even get me started on the challenges of interstate road trips, if one were to live in fear of the nattering nabobs and their fantasy laws. No pet would ever go on vacation again. The rescue transport volunteer would be forced to take her freaked-out charge out on a leash so that they could both pee in the roadside bushes.

Daniel Pinkwater's encounter with the literally self-appointed humane enforcers in his town is, sad to say, not too unusual.

A friend of mine had a similar interaction with semi-officialdom in New Jersey about fifteen years ago. As a result, her border collie got to stay home in a crate for ten or more hours a day. Because, see, it was "cruel" to keep the dog in a crate in an open vehicle, parked under a shade tree, visible from her owner's office window, where she could be exercised four or more times a day, and trained intensively (borderline collie Nirvana) for an hour at lunch. My friend should have fought the "humane enforcers" who bullied her, but she believed what they told her about the law. It was a lie.

Here's the real scoop.

Thirteen states have laws specifically addressing leaving animals in parked cars.

Not a single one of these states has any kind of blanket prohibition.

In every single case, there is language to the effect that the animal must be in danger of suffering, disability, or death from the confinement. (Which makes every one of these laws superfluous, since presumably any kind of confinement that would cause such outcomes is covered under the regular cruelty statutes.)


1. Don't leave your animal in a vehicle if it is too hot or too cold for him to be safe and comfortable there. If he will escape when you leave the window open far enough for adequate air flow, either crate him or leave him home. (Sunroofs are great!) Check your vehicle frequently -- for temperature, and to ensure that some dimwit isn't breaking in to "save" your pooch. Don't leave highly excitable, fearful or defensive animals alone in vehicles; if you have no choice, make sure the animal rides in a crate that is covered or positioned so that he cannot see out or menace passers-by. Remember that an overexcited dog can go down hard in ambient temperatures that a calm dog won't even notice. Train your dog to have car manners even in your absence. Use some sense.

2. If you are harassed by anyone who claims that leaving your dog in the car is illegal, don't become defensive. Make Mrs. Grundy defend herself. Demand to see the law that she has conjured. Remember, your camera phone is your friend -- take video of the entire "conversation," and leave it running for the audio capture. If your vehicle has a thermometer that shows cabin temperature, take video of yourself entering the car, turning it on, and show the temperature on the readout. If Mrs. Grundy is a store employee or security person, get her supervisor out into the parking lot pronto. Don't leave your car and dog -- again, your cell phone is your friend. Demand to know why you, a customer, are being harassed, and ask whether the establishment would like to retain its customers or drive them away. If Mrs. Grundy is a cop or humane enforcement officer, get badge numbers and call the supervisor right there; tell them to come on out with a copy of the statute.

And remember, breaking into your car to "save" a perfectly content animal is still breaking and entering. Prosecute.


  1. In these days of the Internet, don't EVER take on faith from ANYONE "what the law is." The PA Code is online. Many counties are now posting the Borough Codes online. If someone tells you "what the law is", by all means, make them show up with the statue, but go home and do a search to make sure they gave you the "current, in force" copy and also to see what the legal discussions are about the law.

    Heck, even before the Internet, the Freedom of Information Act was and still is your friend. In community gardening, we learned a long time ago that "officials" will say nearly anything to bolster their case.

    In my own case, I have a canvas bag just of legal documents (including sections of the Federal Code) that relates to my community garden, which I take with me anytime there is a meeting. It's taken 3 years, but officials have given up lying to me as I whip out my copies (the relevant portions nicely highlighted for easy reference) of the relevant Codes.

    Now, of course, new-to-the-game folks still attempt to lie to me, but not only do they get "the document treatment", but the others who have been in the game quietly inform them that this just isn't going to work.

    Dorene (yes, once the harvest season is over, I need to get a Google ID for all these blogs)

  2. I still shake my head over the woman last year who threatened to call the cops on our nose work class--which was taking place after 7 p.m., with all the dogs in cars with the windows down, and all the people out there in the parking lot with them. She insisted that they were all going to die of heatstroke--because she'd seen it on TV.


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