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“‘Hot’ is not the word. I felt like I was in hell.” That’s how 75-year-old Peter Pyros described his harrowing, near-death experience of accidentally locking himself inside his own car, parked in his garage, for nearly 14 hours last August. His key fob had malfunctioned, and with temperatures in the 70s, the vehicle soon became unbearably hot. He frantically tried to smash or kick out a window and screamed for help. Before long, he was soaked in sweat and struggling to breathe. He passed out repeatedly. Fearing that he wouldn’t survive, he scrawled a desperate note to his loved ones: “This is a terrible death.”

Thankfully, a neighbor finally heard his pounding and firefighters were able to rescue him. Reflecting on the ordeal, he said, “I wouldn’t want my (worst) enemy to go through what I went through.”

Yet every summer, people put their “best friends” in this terrifying and perilous situation by leaving dogs in parked cars. Even if it’s only mildly warm outside, a parked car can quickly turn into hell on wheels: On a 75-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 104 degrees in 20 minutes — up to 119 degrees on a 90-degree day!

Dogs simply can’t survive that kind of heat for long. As their body temperature rises, most begin to panic, which only makes them hotter. They bark, chew and desperately try to claw their way out of the roasting vehicle. Unable to cool themselves by sweating as humans can, hyperthermia soon sets in, and their liver, kidneys and brain begin to shut down. They lose control of their bowels, vomit, suffer a heart attack and finally collapse. 

Already this year, a dog in California died this way after being left in a car on a 91-degree day. In Michigan, two dogs died and a third was treated for severe dehydration after a woman left them in a parked vehicle for hours outside a casino.

There have been dozens of other close calls, including a dog in Ohio who was left in a car overnight and into the afternoon of the following day, when temperatures reached 79 degrees. Thankfully, authorities were able to free the dog, who was panting heavily and scratching at the windows and doors.

That dog was saved because a good Samaritan reported the situation to police, and Pyros likely owes his life to the neighbor who investigated and found him trapped. If history is any indication, there will be more dogs left to bake in hot vehicles this summer — and they need us to watch out for them and take action.

So on your way in and out of stores and offices, take a minute to scan the parking lot and listen for barking. If you see a victim trapped in a hot car, call local humane authorities or 911 immediately. If they aren’t responsive or take too long and the animal’s life is in danger, find a witness who will back up your assessment and then carefully and quickly get the dog out of the vehicle and into the shade, lower the dog’s body temperature with lukewarm water and proceed to the vet as soon as possible.

The actions of just one alert person can mean the difference between life and, as Peter Pyros put it, “dying a slow death.”

Pollard-Post is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation.

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