Hot dogs in cars: Truckee-Tahoe officials urge awareness, common sense

Amanda Rhoades
In this staged photo, an Australian shepherd named Charlie hangs out inside a car — in the shade and with the windows down — in Tahoe City.
Amanda Rhoades / Sierra Sun |


Currently, only police officers have the authority to smash a car window in order to rescue a dog in California, but that could be changing soon.

If adopted, California Assembly Bill 797 — aka the Right to Rescue Act — would make it legal for a bystander who sees a dog or other animal trapped inside a car to, while acting in good faith, break into the vehicle to rescue it.

The bill was first introduced in 2015 by assemblymen Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga); since, it’s been amended several times based on various committee hearings.

It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 7-0 in mid-June, and now awaits further readings. Visit to read the bill’s full text and to follow its progress.

Summer is in full swing at Truckee and Lake Tahoe, and with the rise in temperature comes the added challenge of dealing with visitor crowds.

Things like commuting and getting through the grocery store checkout line can take much longer when you factor in the number of tourists in Tahoe during peak months.

But let’s not forgot about our four-legged friends. Anyone, residents and visitors alike, can make the mistake of leaving his or her dog in a hot vehicle while running what they expect will be a short errand.

“Four dogs died here last year that had been left in hot cars,” said Sierra Pet Clinic’s Dr. Twylah Sperka.

That’s just at the Truckee veterinary office where Sperka works.

“Typical body temperature for dogs is 101, plus or minus, one degree,” said Sperka. “But dogs don’t sweat. Their cooling system, their AC, is in their mouths.”

Dogs with shorter snouts or a respiratory condition can have a more difficult time cooling down, said Sperka. She added that while it depends on the dog, heavier dogs also have a harder time cooling down.

But while certain dogs are more sensitive to heat, Sperka doesn’t recommend ever leaving a dog in a car, no matter what the temperature is outside or how short the duration of time is.

“To me, there are too many variables. A better rule of thumb is to leave the dog at home,” she said

Sperka added that the inside of a car could reach 120 degrees in 30 minutes. Data from the American Veterinary Association’s website confirms this, if the temperate outside is 85 degrees.

According to the data, the inside of a vehicle can reach 100 degrees in 20 minutes when the temperature outside is 70 degrees.

“It’s easy to think we know how often it happens, but we can’t count the animals that people don’t bring in,” said Sperka.

The exact number of calls received for dogs in vehicles is difficult to track, and most aren’t violations, said Truckee Police Department service manager Dan Olsen.

“Typically during the summer months, we respond to 20-30 calls for animals in vehicles,” he said.

Olsen said it isn’t just a problem during the summer months, though, and that pet owners also shouldn’t leave their dogs in vehicles when the temperature drops below 30 degrees or rises above 70.

“However, there are other circumstances that come into play even for these temperatures, such as, is the vehicle in the direct sunlight, the thickness of an animals fur, age and condition of the animal,” he said.

It’s against the law in California to leave an animal unattended inside of a car “under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”

The law also states, “A healthy dog, whose normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees, can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 for only a short time before suffering brain damage or death.”

As for those trips across the state line, Nevada law specifies: “a person shall not allow a cat or dog to remain unattended in a parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.”

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