Laws for Paws: Leaving pets in cars a matter of life and death

Dog in car

Almost every state has a law prohibiting leaving animals in vehicles during extreme temperatures, hot or cold. While statistics on the number of pets that die when left in hot cars is difficult to determine, it is more prevalent than people realize. Temperatures in cars rise quickly and that “five minute” dash into a store can mean death for your pet.

On an 87-degree day, asphalt temperatures can reach 140 degrees, hot enough to cause burns, permanent damage and scarring after just one minute of contact. People may look at me as if I’m crazy when I bend down to put my hand on the pavement in summer before I let Sadie out of the car, but if it’s too hot, we go home.

Rapid burns and blistering can occur at 150 degrees. Hot sidewalks, pavement and parking lots can not only burn paws; they also reflect heat onto dogs’ bodies, increasing their risk of deadly heatstroke. The chart below is surprising to many pet owners, but it’s a fact: temperatures in hot cars, even with the windows down, can cause death to pets. The chart below surprises many pet owners, but it’s factual.

So, you think you will only run into the store for 15 minutes and you leave your pet in the car. According to a Stanford University study, even with all the windows down, in 15 minutes the inside of the car on an 80-degree day will climb to 115 degrees. Is anything in the store really worth the risk to your pet?

Dogs don’t sweat, except partially on their paw pads — so they are unable to cool down as we do. There is no one organization that keeps track of how many dogs die in hot cars, but according to Dr. Louise Murray, director of medicine at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New York, “Normal adult humans wouldn’t just sit and boil in a car; they’d get out. But dogs don’t have a choice if the doors are closed. Sadly, these cases of fatal heat stroke are preventable — it shouldn’t happen.”

If you see a dog in a hot car, look for these signs of fatal heat stroke:

  • Restlessness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Thick saliva
  • Heavy panting
  • Lethargy
  • Dark tongue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat

Of course, some of these symptoms are impossible to determine if you don’t have access to the dog, but if you have left your dog in the car and return to see any of these, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. If you are unable to take the dog to a vet, get them into an air-conditioned building and call animal control and tell them it’s an emergency.

If you see a dog in a hot car, do not ignore it. Take action. The law is on your side to rescue the dog in many states, but few people are prosecuted for saving a dog’s life. If you can’t find the driver, call the police.

Thankfully, in West Virginia, it’s illegal to leave your dog in the car during extreme temperatures. Common sense should take over whether you know the law or not.

W.Va. Code §61-8-19 Cruelty to animals; penalties; exclusions. (a) (1) It is unlawful for any person to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, (E); leave an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result; the penalty is a steep fine and possibly six months in jail.

All of us pet parents love to have our pets with us. Sometimes the right and best thing to do is to leave your pet at home. Many animal organizations have pamphlets and signs warning of the dangers that can be distributed to pet owners you meet. Visit to learn about the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars.

Patti Lawson is an award-winning author and attorney. She has written for the Huffington Post, AOL Paw Nation, the Charleston Gazette, and other publications. She lives in West Virginia with her beloved dog, Sadie, and her amazing husband. Visit her website:

Her recent book, “What Happens to Rover When the Marriage is Over? And Other Doggone Legal Dilemmas!” is available locally at book stores or on line at and other locations.

Funerals for Sunday, October 13, 2019

Adams, Tammy - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Averson, Louie - 2 p.m., Armstrong Funeral Home, Whitesville.

Durst, Betty - 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Elkins, Norwood - 2 p.m., Spencer Chapel, Hewett.

Farley, Richard - 2 p.m., Henson & Kitchen Mortuary, Huntington.

Hatten, Joseph - 1 p.m., Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Light, David - 2 p.m., O’Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Samples, Romie - 2 p.m., The Family Cemetery, Procious.

Williamson, Hi - 11 a.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.