Officials caution against leaving pets, kids in hot car

As the summer brings hot temperatures to Alpena, a local police officer and veterinarian want to remind people not to leave their children or pets in parked cars.

In Michigan, it’s illegal to leave a child younger than six unattended in a vehicle for too long or in dangerous circumstances, Alpena Police Patrolman Bill Gohl said. The law specifically states small children can’t be left “for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child.”

In the summer, that’s a very short time frame, Gohl said, adding he wouldn’t leave a child inside a car for more than a couple of minutes. The same goes for pets.

“You need to produce better shelter than that for an animal or a child, especially in this heat,” he said.

While young children are specifically protected by law, pets are shielded by Michigan’s law against animal cruelty, Gohl said. Violators for both laws face punishments ranging from a fine to prison sentences, depending on the severity of the crime. If a child dies as a result of being left behind in a vehicle, the adult responsible for that child’s care could spend 15 years behind bars.

Parents need to take their children inside with them, or leave them at home if possible, Gohl said. For pets, he recommends leaving car windows down and parking in a shady area if the owner is going to be inside for a short while.

It doesn’t take long for summer sunshine to turn a car into a sauna. A study by the San Francisco State University showed temperatures in a parked car with closed windows rose to 117 degrees after 10 minutes. This was on a day where the outside temperature was 91 degrees. After 30 minutes, the temperature in the car was 129 degrees, and after an hour it hit 138 degrees. Opening the windows a crack made a small difference; on a day when temperatures were 92 degrees outside, temperatures hit 108 degrees inside the car after 10 minutes, 118 degrees after 30 minutes and 136 degrees after an hour.

Even on cooler days, leaving dogs inside of a vehicle can be bad, Alpena Veterinary Clinic’s Dr. Joann Greenfield said. While it might seem like a nice day outside, temperatures inside a car can push past 100 degrees after 30 minutes.

Pets can be seriously harmed if left inside a hot car, well beyond simply being overheated, Greenfield said.

“If they’re left long enough, if it’s bad enough you can see things as bad as blood clots, kidney failure or brain swelling,” she said.

The easiest way to avoid an overheated dog is to leave them home, Greenfield said. Otherwise, owners need to consider whether they would be comfortable inside a car for any length of time; if not, their pet would be uncomfortable, too. Pet owners could leave their car running with the air conditioner on if there’s no alternative. Bringing water and a dish is never a bad idea, either.

If a dog becomes overheated, it’s important to take them to a veterinarian to be checked for serious injuries, Greenfield said. In the meantime, owners can help the dog cool down by spraying them with cool water. It’s important to cool them down gradually, so using ice is not recommended.

“Another trick is putting (rubbing) alcohol on their paw pads, that’s going to help evaporate and dissipate heat that way,” she said.

While Greenfield hasn’t seen any overheated, car-confined dogs at her office yet this year, she’s seen them before, she said. The owners who bring them in suffer, too.

“People just feel awful if they do come in,” she said. “That’s one of the worst things you can feel, is knowing it’s your fault, that you hurt your dog.”

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at