Greenwood resident Sheila Markman and her dog Josie with the ALDF Car Shade. Photo by Christie Lagally
Greenwood resident Sheila Markman and her dog Josie with the ALDF Car Shade. Photo by Christie Lagally

At any time of the day, we may happen upon an animal in distress.  Whether you pass injured wildlife on the road, see a dog in a hot car or an injured kitty on the street, it is our responsibility to respond in this animal’s time of need.  Luckily, with just a little information and a few supplies, it is easy to respond to animal emergencies no matter where or when you encounter them. 

As summer approaches, you hear frequent reminders to never leave a dog or other animal in a hot car. Unfortunately, many people do not understand that even on a cool day, the inside of a car can reach deadly temperatures in minutes, even with windows cracked.  If you see an animal in a hot car, it’s important to respond immediately, take action and personally ensure that the animal gets to safety.   

Jeff Pierce, Legislative Council for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) says that his organization started a campaign on this issue about two years ago.  Pierce outlines that all states have animal cruelty laws, but some states have specific laws addressing dogs in hot cars including laws that empower good Samaritans to rescue an animal if law enforcement cannot get to the scene in time.  You can visit ALDF’s website, aldf.org, for more information.  

Here in Washington state, it is a class 2 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120 to leave or confine any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.

Individuals who encounter an animal in this situation should immediately call Seattle Animal Shelter or Regional Animal Services of King County. If humane officers cannot be reached, call the police department or 911.  It is vital to stay at the scene to direct law enforcement to the animal and ensure she is rescued.  In Washington state, humane and police officers are empowered by the law to rescue an animal from a hot car “by any means reasonable under the circumstances.” 

Education is key to ensuring dogs or other animals are not left in hot cars. Greenwood resident Sheila Markman said she has encountered situations at her workplace where dogs had to be rescued from hot cars. Hence, Markman recently got a sun shade from ALDF that reminds fellow drivers to call 911 if you see a trapped dog.

“It’s extremely deadly,” she said.  

Other types of animal emergencies should also be addressed with urgency.  Whether you find a free-roaming dog, an abandon chicken or injured wildlife, it is our responsibility to take action. We cannot expect other passersby will even notice the animal.  While getting an animal to safety may seem daunting or inconvenient at first, being prepared with some common supplies and a few simple steps allows you to help the animal quickly and easily. 

Stephanie Bell, Cruelty Casework Director for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Emergency Response Team, explains that if you encounter a trapped animal the most important thing is to stay calm, remain at the scene and call for help from there, if needed. Rescue of the animal may be impossible if the animal disappears.  Having someone keep an eye on the animal is paramount, Bell said.

Second, make every effort to expedite assistance for the animal.  Ensure you have a cellphone at all times (even on short walks) with the numbers for animal control (Seattle Animal Shelter), the local police department and your local emergency vet clinic and wildlife rescue center.  In Seattle, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) can advise you on matters involving wildlife in distress. 

Wildlife cases—especially in the springtime when baby animals are roaming with their parents—can be complex.  A healthy fledgling bird may not need assistance and intervention may actually cause harm, but you may need guidance on how to engage a clearly injured baby opossum safely.  Bell explains that you should always consult a wildlife expert on the proper steps to take.

“Local officials rely on members of the public to do their part to assist animals in distress,” Bell said, adding that being prepared with an emergency kit ensures you have supplies on hand to respond to most emergencies.  A kit should include gloves, a leash, towels, gauze strip, a carrier, and some treats or a pop-top can of cat food.  These supplies enable you to catch a free-roaming dog to take her to the shelter or transport an injured cat for veterinary care.  PETA also sells an Animal Rescue Car Kit with some of these supplies.  

For more information about responding to animals or wildlife in distress, visit prime.peta.org/2008/10/how-to-handle-an-animal-emergency.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and the editor of Living Humane, a news site providing articles, op-eds and podcasts on humane-conscious lifestyles at livinghumane.com.