My dog is in my car. He’s fine.

“I don’t want to be educated.”


I finished up my meeting with a happy client.  The young dog, who leaps on people in greeting and has bitten a couple of times, is already doing a lot better since our first meeting.  We talked about door manners and agreed to touch base in a few weeks.  Feeling pleased, I headed outside toward my car.

Then my heart sank.  A huge black pickup was parked right next to my car, blocking most of the narrow street.  A teen on a Razor scooter was blocking the driver’s door, a smaller kid was wandering around, an older lady was standing by my car holding a Chihuahua, and another woman (the middle generation) was behind the wheel of the pickup.  I smiled at the teen blocking my access and said, “I’m getting in my car.”  Staring at me, she moved a bit so I could get in.

Then it started.  I was told that my dogs should not be in the car; that they did not have water; that I should have left them at home; that they were distressed.  I explained that they were used to traveling with me. I pointed out the sign on my windshield and asked if they had read it.  Yes, I was told.  Then why, I asked, hadn’t they texted me?

“I shouldn’t have to.”  Instead, this person had called the police.  It turns out that she had read the sign on Barley’s crate explaining that he has separation anxiety and would be dead if I couldn’t bring him with me, and she had no answer for what I should do with him if I couldn’t leave him home — she changed the subject.  She claimed his panting was because he was hot and not because people were hovering around my car.  She said this was no different from leaving a child in a car and she hoped I never had access to anyone’s children.  The grandmother raged at me because they had no water.  (In fact, Mellie’s bucket was empty, though I had checked before I went inside.)  They had to get very close to the back window to see Barley’s sign or Mellie’s bucket, and they couldn’t have seen Barley’s bucket at all.  My poor dogs.

The deputy arrived.  He was very calm and quiet.  He asked me some questions.  I showed him the windows and the Vent-Lock holding the lift back open about 8″.  I showed him the Aluminet I can use if it’s hotter, and I showed him the sign on my windshield with my text number on it.  He concluded there was no problem and told me to leave while he went and talked to the complainers.

Last time this happened, I was asked: “What kind of person are you?”  The complainer literally pulled into a parking space near mine as I had just parked and was pulling the Aluminet over my car.  I explained the Aluminet would cool the car.  She told me she could break into my car, and I said, “not unless the dogs are in distress and you have called the police first.”  She was on the phone and waved it at me.  I came back out within 15 minutes, and she was still sitting near my car.  Since I assumed she had called the police, I sat there for another 15 minutes under my Aluminet.  No cops, so I stepped over to ask her if they were coming.  When she saw me approach, she slammed her car door shut and gave me the finger.

The time before that, I was told that the complainer had called the police.  It was 71 degrees and dusk.  I tried to explain that my white car wasn’t going to heat up much when there was almost no sun hitting it, and that outside temperature had less to do with interior temperature than light did.  She told me,

“I don’t want to be educated.”  She told me to stop harassing her.  The police arrived, told me there was no problem. I left.

Would you like to hear about the time before that, or the one before that?

Dogs can be fine in cars.


Here is the deal.

Mellie works with me with some of my client dogs.  She’s what we call a neutral, decoy, or helper dog.  Sometimes I let client dogs see her so I can assess their responses toward a strange dog.  Sometimes she parades around so owners can practice new skills in handling their dog’s reactions.  Sometimes she meets them so the dogs can practice their new greeting skills.

Barley has clinical separation anxiety.  True separation anxiety is a panic disorder.  These dogs panic if left alone.  They will distress-bark nonstop and try to escape, often damaging their crates or house doors in the process.  In severe cases, they will eat through doors or walls, damaging their teeth or claws in the process.  They may throw themselves through closed windows.  They may lose control of bladder or bowels.  This isn’t about dogs who are sad when you leave and excited when you get back; it’s about dogs who panic as if they are drowning.  It can be a life-threatening disorder involving a huge amount of suffering for dog and owner.  I fostered Barley for 14 months and tried to place him twice before deciding to adopt him. He’s a lovely dog, albeit somewhat high-maintenance.  Since I moved to a new house, he has regressed and really can’t be left alone.  If I do leave him, he has to be fairly heavily sedated and he’s still very stressed.  While I’m working with him to help him learn to relax when alone again, it’s slow going.  So, I bring him with me.  He’s a lot happier in his car crate.  We get by.  A couple of weeks ago, temperatures in Portland rose to record levels — it was near or over 100 for almost a week.  Since I couldn’t leave Barley home and couldn’t really bring him in the car, I cancelled everything and went to stay with friends on the coast.  This cost me money and caused some stress (not that the beach wasn’t lovely).  Please don’t tell me I’m a bad dog owner.

Because I have dogs in the car with me, I bought a white car.  White cars heat up more slowly than dark colored cars.  I bought a Vent-Lock, which enables me to open up the lift gate and lock it to prevent entry.  I have reflective windshield screens.  I have a huge Aluminet to drape over my car, with a selection of magnets and clips to hold it in place.  Aluminet is a woven aluminum shade cloth: both highly reflective and allowing air flow, it can lower interior temperatures by 15-20 degrees and is the single most effective way to control temperature inside your car.  I seek out shade when I can.  My dogs have water buckets in their crates.  I use whatever of this gear I need to keep the temperatures safe.  Yep, sometimes the temperature inside the car is 80 or 85 degrees.  This is warm, but it’s not dangerous to a healthy dog with a normal head shape.  (Overweight or brachycephalic dogs, or those with certain health issues, may be less tolerant of higher temperatures.)

I point this out to the people who stalk my car and scare my dogs, but many of them don’t care.  Those people today — if they actually cared about my dogs’ comfort and safety, they would have texted me.  I could have filled those water buckets inside of three minutes.  Instead they called the police and waited around for the chance to confront and harass me.  It could not be more obvious that they are interested in being self-righteously angry, no matter how illogical their position.  It could not be more apparent that they are not interested in “being educated.”  Facts mean nothing.  They don’t know what a heat-distressed dog looks like and they don’t care.  They read memes on Facebook with false information about how fast cars heat up and have heroic fantasies about breaking someone’s car windows.  It seems almost inevitable that my car window will be broken someday.

When Barley was a young puppy, he was chained to a tree for three months, from the ages of two to five months.  He is much more reactive on leash.  He’s (to all appearances) a Border Collie/Great Pyrenees mix.  He has some breed-normal reserve with strangers, is territorial around my house and a bit around my car, and isn’t comfortable when he feels trapped. When he’s in a crate inside my car, he is trapped.  I would like him to feel safe in there.  A lot of times, it’s the only place he can be.  When I say he would be dead if I couldn’t bring him places with me in the car, I am not exaggerating.  I was very close to euthanizing him before I adopted him, and when I decided to keep him, I knew it was going to be tough because my other male dog tormented him mercilessly.  (My younger male is now tormenting him and I have to do a lot of management and feel a lot of guilt over this.)  I rearranged my life in many ways to accommodate him.  I adore this dog, but on top of the many arrangements I have to make just to keep him in my home and life, I am now dealing with angry, irrational people like those described above about once a week.  I fear that the people staring in and hanging around will upset him and make him even more defensive.  The sign on his crate warns he may bite, and I feel this is true.  I dread the day someone breaks my window and panics him.

You’d think that if you saw a car with highly visible special equipment to create shade and airflow, plus an informational sign with a text number for concerned onlookers, you would assume the owner was aware of the risk of hot cars and had mitigated it, was available to deal with it.  Apparently, this is not the case.

Here is some crucial information for people who are concerned:

  • Outside temperature is not that important in causing a car to heat up.  Think about it — cars don’t get that hot at night.  It happens during the day.
  • Mostly, what makes cars heat up is light hitting them.  A car in direct sun heats up faster than one in shade.
    • The sun is stronger when you are closer to the equator.  (That is why there is ice at the poles but not at the Equator.) There is literally more energy hitting the car surface per square inch in Louisiana than in Seattle.  I live in Portland, Oregon, which is north of the 45th parallel and most of the rest of the continental US.  Portland is north of Ontario, in Canada.  The sun here is relatively weak.
    • Reflective surfaces turn away the sun instead of absorbing the light and turning it into heat.  That’s why white cars don’t heat up as much as dark ones.  It is also why Aluminet works so well; aluminum has a very high albedo (reflectivity).
  • Larger cars heat up more slowly than smaller ones.  My car is a Subaru Outback – a middling volume.
  • Airflow matters.  The farther windows are open, the slower the car will heat up.  The more windows are open, allowing air to flow through instead of getting stuck, the slower the car will heat up.  Four open windows and an open lift back allow a lot of air flow.  (Aluminet if full of holes, so it also allows a lot of airflow.)

You know that sign you’ve seen as a Facebook meme stating the temperature inside a car based on the temperature outside the car?  That’s full of hot air.  As noted, exterior temperature is not the main determinant of interior temperature.  That meme is based on a study done on a car in New Orleans in July.  The sun in New Orleans, in July, contains a lot more energy to turn into heat than sun can ever get in Portland.  And it doesn’t take into account the effect of overcast, shade from trees and buildings, shade added by the owner, or car color.

If you are hot under the collar about dogs in hot cars, please do dogs everywhere a favor.  Learn the signs of heat distress in dogs.  (Hint: If they are barking, they probably aren’t in any trouble, but would like you to go away. Dogs in heat distress will generally be pretty still and lethargic — they will look “calm.”)  Learn to assess the actual conditions.  Is there shade?  What’s your latitude?  What color is the car?  If the owner has left contact info on the car, use it.  Just because a dog is in a car doesn’t mean something is wrong.  Many dogs go in many cars and are fine.  Your concern should be actual signs of distress or a car that is actually likely to be dangerously hot because it’s closed up and in bright sun.  Your index of concern should be far higher in Arizona or Florida than in Oregon or Wisconsin.

At this point I am seriously considering buying a cargo van just so people can’t see in.  I really do not want a cargo van, but this harassment is eating a hole in my stomach.  I promise you, no one loves my dogs more than I do.  I am more knowledgeable than most about how to keep them safe.  I have spent a lot of time and money gearing up to keep them safe.  Your rage does not change that.