DENVER (KDVR) — With summer temperatures, what would you do if you saw a dog trapped in a hot car?  What can you do legally?

The FOX31 Problem Solvers looked into the Colorado law that could grant you immunity for breaking someone’s car window to rescue someone inside and what you need to do first in order to avoid getting into trouble.  

“Colorado is such a dog-friendly state, and we love to bring our pets with us everywhere we go,” said Joan Thielen, with Foothills Animal Shelter.  

Sometimes in severe heat, it might be best to leave the pup at home.  

“When somebody is leaving their dog in the vehicle … we get a lot of times where people are going to grocery stores, and maybe you’re running a quick errand, and they think it’s going to be, you know, quicker than it actually is,” said Noah Imai with Denver Animal Protection. “I think a lot of times they’re just not really assessing the whole risk.”

“You really are risking your dog’s life in those situations,” Imai said. “You really are putting them in some potential to have serious health conditions and possibly die.”

Imai has the proof after putting a stuffed dog in a hot car on a 90-degree day. They had every window rolled down about four inches, and the temperature in the car still rose to 120 degrees.  

Even temperatures in the 80s are risky for dogs

Denver Animal Protection has responded to 200 calls for dogs in distress so far this summer.

“A lot of times, it’s not the 100-degree days that we’re getting tons of calls on. People seem to kind of know and prepare ahead of time for those 100-degree days,” Imai said. “It’s those 80 degrees, 90 degrees, where people think that it’s probably not a great idea to bring your dog but maybe not the most risky decision. And it’s in those situations where dogs can end up being in extreme distress.”

Imai explains what dog owners and bystanders should know about a dog in distress.  

“We’re looking at whether the dog is showing symptoms of heat exhaustion. and so what that might look like is rapid panting and excessive drooling. In extreme situations, dog is starting to vomit, is getting really lethargic and not responding, is being kind of disoriented, and the dog is seeking the coolest part of the vehicle, which is usually the floor,” Imai said.  

In 2017, Colorado passed the “Immunity For Emergency Rescue From Locked Vehicle” law. It says that in an emergency situation, a bystander can break the window of a car to rescue an at-risk person or animal inside if death is imminent.  

But you have to do the following first:

  • Ensure the vehicle is not a law enforcement vehicle
  • The person/animal must be in imminent danger of death
  • Verify the vehicle is locked
  • Make a reasonable effort to locate the owner
  • Contact law enforcement BEFORE breaking in
  • Use no more force than reasonably necessary
  • Stay with the at-risk person/animal in a safe location nearby

“If you’re at a store, go inside and see if you can’t find the owner. Have [staff] page over the intercom and see if the owner is somewhere inside,” said Thielen, with Foothills Animal Shelter.

“Putting your windows down on days like today [with 100-degree temperatures] is just not enough, and it can be deadly,” Thielen said. “It’s really scary. And we just want to make sure that our pets are safe and in a good place on these really, really hot days.”

The severity of the case and the condition of the dog really determines the citation or charges that law enforcement can enact. It has happened before. In 2020, a man in Denver was sentenced for leaving his dog in a parked car.