Leaving your dog locked inside a hot vehicle can get you into hot water with the law.

Leaving your dog locked inside a hot vehicle can get you into hot water with the law.

It's a problem local police see every spring and summer, said Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department.

Even in temperatures lower than you might expect, it's not safe to keep dogs — or any pet — locked in the car, according to Diana Schropp, a critical care specialist at Medford's Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center.

"When temperatures are getting into the 70s or higher, it is probably not a good idea to leave a pet in the car, even with the windows cracked, unless the A/C is on," Schropp said. "Dogs have a limited ability to get rid of excess heat. ... When their body temperatures start to get up over 106, we start to see seizures."

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it takes about 10 minutes for the temperature inside a car to rise 20 degrees hotter than the air outside, and as the minutes continue ticking by, the temperature inside continues to rise.

"It doesn't take long for those temperatures to get unsafe, and dogs just don't have any ability to compensate for it, and they don't have the ability to open the door and get out," Schropp said.

When temperatures eclipse 100 degrees, as they have been lately, police officers are dumbfounded when they see a panting, overheated pooch locked inside a car.

"It's really surprising that anyone would put a dog in their car in these really hot temperatures," Budreau said. "If it's going to save a dog's life, we will break a window. It's going to be a last resort, and it's going to have to be a situation where the dog is in an immediate need of assistance."

Leaving your dog locked in an oven-on-wheels could get you more than a broken window.

Police cite pet owners for such negligence, Budreau said, usually to the tune of second-degree animal neglect, a Class B misdemeanor.

If the pet suffers from serious physical injury or dies, the charge is bumped up to first-degree animal neglect, a Class A misdemeanor.

According to Oregon Revised Statutes, if you're convicted of either charge, you cannot possess a domestic animal of any kind for five years.

"I think the big key is for people not to take their pets with them. Leave them home if you have to leave your pet in the car for even just a short period of time," Schropp said.

Sometimes pets never recover from heat stroke, Schropp said. They can suffer internal damage that can last a lifetime and cause further complications.

Schropp said veterinarians at the specialty center have seen a couple of cases already this summer. So have police, who typically receive reports of locked pets in the parking lots of grocery stores.

"Some people may think that cracking the window will cool the car off, but it can still get to lethal levels," Budreau said. "Cracking the windows is not going to cool the car off."

Budreau said Medford police encourage people who happen upon a hot vehicle with a distressed dog inside to call 911 and an officer will respond.

But if the dog looks like it's about to die?

"It's something that we really want to discourage, but breaking the window would ultimately be up to the person breaking it to make an argument as to why they committed vandalism."

It's a legal gray area, Budreau said.

If it's the last option to save a dog's life, then there likely would be no charges, but the burden to prove that fact falls on the person breaking the window, he said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.