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As the UK embraces the scorching hot summer weather, animal experts and charities are issuing warnings about the dangers of leaving dogs trapped in hot cars, what to do if you happen to find a trapped dog and how the law could protect you if you are faced with breaking into a car to save a dog's life.
The RSPCA told Tyla they have received 544 reports of animals in hot cars this year.
“It’s probably the tip of the iceberg,” a spokesperson said.
Their key advice is to not call them, but to call the police on 999 instead.
In an emergency the RSPCA may not be able to attend quickly, and with no powers of entry, they would need police assistance. When the police are alerted they will then inform animal welfare.
Establishing the animal’s health and condition and if they are showing signs of heatstroke - such as panting heavily, excessive drooling, lethargic or drowsy in appearance or vomiting is very important.
The RSPCA spokesperson said: “If the situation becomes critical for the dog and the police are too far away or unable to attend, many people's instinct will be to break into the car to free the dog.
“If you decide to do this, please be aware that without proper justification, this could be classed as criminal damage and, potentially, you may need to defend your actions in court.
You must tell the police if you intend to break into the car and why. Heidi Maskelyne, founder of ProDog Raw said: "I do not recommend anyone acting on breaking into a vehicle themselves, however if the police are unable to come straight away I do recommend you asking them for their advice because they may instruct you to rescue the dog yourself.
“Legally this should cover you, however I’d also advise you to make sure you have photo or video evidence of the situation prior, to protect yourself under the 1971 Criminal Damage act.
"As a British citizen you do have a lawful excuse to commit criminal damage if you believe the owner would agree to it under the circumstances too.”
Heidi also gave suggestions for what to do if you find a dog locked in a car which doesn’t have any signs of heatstroke but their welfare is still a cause for concern. The first step is to try and establish how long the dog has been in the car by looking for a parking ticket and to try and locate the owner before taking further action.
“I’d then advise you to make a note of the registration from the car in case the situation escalates or If you need to report the incident."
But if you have had to rescue a dog from inside the car that is suffering from heatstroke, there are some important measures in emergency situations once the dog is out of the car. PDSA vet nurse Nina Downing advised moving the dog to a shaded, cool area and immediately pour water that’s at room temperature onto the dog’s body.
On a 22°C day, within an hour the temperature inside a car can reach around 47°C, or even higher in direct sunlight, which can happen as the sun moves around. Temperatures have reached 29°C in the UK this week. “Don’t use ice-cold water, this may cause the dog to go into shock." Allow the dog to drink small amounts of lukewarm water and continue to pour it over their body until their breathing begins to settle.
She added: “Even if the dog appears to fully recover, always take them to your local vet for a check.”
For pet owners, the most important thing to remember is to avoid leaving your dog in a hot car all together. Bill Lambert, health and welfare expert at The Kennel Club told Tyla: “Leaving a dog in a car can be fatal. The temperature inside can climb rapidly, causing dogs to overheat, become dehydrated, develop heatstroke, or even die.
He added: “During this period of warmer weather across the country, we are certainly concerned that more dogs could be left in cars, causing very dangerous situations, particularly as Covid restrictions ease and more people are out and about."
For more information about the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars and for the signs of heatstroke, please visit the RSPCA's website here.