Unpleasant people can surprise you when you least expect it, even if you are trying to do a good deed. But let me go back to the beginning.

A pug in trouble

Save a Dog Pug in a Car Photo by Jordan Negron on UnsplashI was having a pleasant day. I treated myself to a tasty salad at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurant’s, Nate’s Garden Grill. I look forward to going there, enjoying the friendly people and excellent food.

As I left, I noticed a pug panting with his paws up on the window of a nice looking Lexus SUV, they that might have been able to afford thanks to loan providers similar to lendingexpert.co.uk , next to the entrance. The windows were rolled up tight, and sun was beaming inside.

I knew it was time to save a dog.

Your portable oven

Studies show that car interiors can get too hot even on cool days. One group even baked cookies in their car to show how hot it gets. Babies have died on “cool” days. Although I’m retired from veterinary practice, I have a clear memory of animals who died or had brain damage from this situation. Brachycephalic breeds–the dogs with pushed-in noses like Pugs and Boston Terriers–are especially intolerant of heat due to limitations of their respiratory anatomy.

The search

A quick query of the patrons inside the restaurant did not turn up the owner. Nate’s is next door to another favorite place, City Farmer’s Nursery (you really should go if you are in San Diego), which shares the parking lot. I explained the situation to an employee there who went looking for the owner. I returned to the car to keep an eye on the pug and monitor how much time passed in case I had to call Animal Control or break the window. The little fella was hiding in the shade of the dash. Good dog!

A surprise reaction

It didn’t take long before a very angry voice called out across the parking lot, “Leave my dog alone!” I was about three feet from his car. As he approached, he continued a barrage of shouts all about how he was only inside “literally 10 seconds” and that I should mind my own business.

I calmly assured him that 10 seconds was no problem (even though it had been several minutes beyond that) and that I am a vet looking out for his dog in case it was in danger. I didn’t get too far as he blasted me with, “I don’t care who you are, leave my dog alone, and mind your own business.” And continued to shout.

Standing down a bully

That’s where I draw the line. I don’t appreciate bullies. He expected me to back down in the face of his verbal assault. Despite his lack of volume control, I told him very calmly, “The welfare of animals is my business.”

It’s my experience that educational information falls on deaf ears when people are irate, so I didn’t bother to tell him the danger he put his dog in.

An acceptable outcome

The owner, a young man in his early 30s maybe, kept up the shouting, but as he did, he opened the car door, leashed his dog, and led it back to City Farmer’s trailing a cloud of vilification. I stood there a bit shaken. Shouting does boost adrenaline.

Save a dog but be safe

As of January, 2018, California law allows a person to break into a car to save a dog and be safe from civil or criminal prosecution. It’s a legal requirement for people to have car insurance, many opting for comprehensive insurance for cars, so if you break the car most people should be able to get it repaired with support from their insurance company. If you can’t find the owner, and the dog is in danger, you have to call the authorities first before taking action. Nonetheless, I hesitate to think what would have happened had enough time passed that I was compelled to break a window.

So I’d like to pass on a few suggestions if you decide to save a dog locked in a car:

  • Time how long the dog is in the car; if it’s in obvious trouble, you can skip this step
  • Check with people nearby to see if anyone knows the owner or when they arrived
  • Make note of what you did to find the owner
  • Observe the dog and note or record what you see. The dog does not have to be in convulsions to be in distress. The law says you can’t be criminally or civilly responsible if you break a window, but that doesn’t prevent someone trying to sue you. In court, you’d have to prove the dog was in danger. Documenting how much time passed, how the dog was acting, and when you called the authorities will make your case
  • Engage help from bystanders or people in nearby businesses; witnesses are a good thing; breaking into a car could mean the police will be on the way, so clue in onlookers. If you are a person of color, this is a good idea for multiple reasons
  • Take a photo of the situation (I forgot!) , the car, and the license plate–more documentation; you’ll need the plate when you call the authorities
  • Call the authorities before you break a window. You may have to use 911 rather than the non-emergency number, since hold times could be too long.
  • Stay calm, especially if the owner shows up and is upset about the dog or their broken window; don’t engage in argument in defense of your action. Explain, but do it without anger or emotion if you can
  • Don’t start shaming the owner. Time can pass too quickly when you are running errands. Responsible owners will be genuinely embarrassed and remorseful, and you’ll have no positive effect on people who don’t care or have mental or personality problems.

In the end, the dog was spared from harm, I went back to my day, and the pug looked relieved and cute as a button.

As an obvious reminder to all pet owners, don’t leave your dog in your car, even if you are going in somewhere “just for a moment.” Lines can be longer than you expect, and it’s easy to get distracted. Even on cloudy or cool days, radiant heat can cause temperatures to spike in your car.


  • https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2005/07/parked-cars-get-dangerously-hot-even-on-cool-days-stanford-study-finds.html
  • https://www.theweathernetwork.com/news/articles/for-science-baking-cookies-in-a-sweltering-hot-car/55534
  • Photo by Jordan Negron on Unsplash (this is not a photo of the dog in this article)
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