Children and pets in hot cars: Name two things that will make me bust your car window

Children and pets in hot cars: Name two things that will make me bust your car window

By now you've undoubtedly heard the tragic story about the Georgia dad, Justin Ross Harris, whose son recently died when Justin Ross Harris left the child in his car while he was at work. This story breaks my heart and reminds me of an incident from the Summer of 2012 involving a dog left in a sweltering car outside a local bar.

In case you don't remember the Summer of 2012 in Chicago, it was H.O.T. In fact, a chilly day was when the mercury topped out at 102F. Most days the thermometer ranged somewhere between "fry eggs on the bare sidewalk" and "sweat your deodorant off by 9:00 a.m. and stink all day." It was miserable.

One particular evening, a girlfriend and I decided to meet up at our favorite watering hole after work for some icy beverages. When I arrived, shortly after 5:00 p.m., my friend had already arrived and was completely distraught. It only took a moment for me to discover the cause of her distress was the cutest little dog you'd ever seen sitting in a locked car.

As I mentioned, it was hot. On this day, it was so hot that inhaling felt like swallowing fire or what I imagine that feels like.

So there was this dog in a stifling car, no owners to be found, and it was crazy hot. In fact, there was an oven thermometer sitting on the dashboard and it was registering somewhere around the 130F mark. At 5:00 p.m. sitting out of direct sunlight it was 130F in the car.

We knew we had to do something. But what? We started by attempting to get into the car, but every door was locked. We didn't want to break in because we were worried we'd get arrested. I was having a bad week and the last thing I needed was to be arrested for attempting to be a good person. The dog was responsive to us and wagging its tail, but we knew that in that car with its leather seats, the dog wouldn't last long. I headed into the bar to find the owner and my friend stayed with the dog.

The bar owners were super nice and quickly dispatched the wait staff to query every table to find the car and dog owner. Unfortunately, I returned to my friend a few minutes later, without an owner. No one had stepped up. I went back and forth between the bar and my friend a few times, each time returning without the owner.

After what was probably my fourth back-and-forth, I walked outside to find my friend standing with the dog on its leash under the bar's awning. It seems she had maneuvered her arm inside the open window and was able to unlock the door. Ya, my friend has super skinny arms, but we won't hate her for that. Although it appeared unharmed, the dog clearly needed water, so off I went back inside in search of water.

This time, the bar's owners came outside with me and a huge bucket of water. To this day, I've never seen a dog so happy for water. My friend and I stood talking to the bar owners for quite awhile debating whether to call the cops or not.

Seconds after we decided to call 911, but prior to actually making the call, out walked the dog's owners who were none too pleased with us. In fact, they were pretty pissed off. The woman claimed that her dog was used to sitting in a hot car for hours because they were from California and she and her dog had just arrived at O'Hare, where, of course, the dog had flown across country in the cargo hold. They'd stopped at the bar on their way back to the naval base, where her boyfriend was stationed, because she was hungry and the dog was just fine and dandy hanging out in the car.

We informed her that in spite of what she may or may not do in California, it was far too hot to leave a dog in a car that was 130F, and that in Illinois, it was illegal to leave children and pets in cars during this weather.

She kept yelling at us and telling us that her dog was none of our business and that we were out of line for being good samaritans, but it took her a few minutes to realize that my friend had managed to get the dog out of a locked car. Fortunately, the bar owners had remained outside and backed up our story that we had attempted to find them before entering their car. Finally, the owners left with the dog, but not before telling us that if they ever saw us again, we'd be in big trouble.

Although I've always felt good about getting the dog out of the car and looking for the owner, I've always felt like we failed the dog that day.

Why do I feel that way?

We hemmed and hawed about calling the police because we were scared for our own hides and we let the owners take the dog home.

If I were to come across an animal or a child in a locked car today, even one with the window cracked, I wouldn't hesitate to call 911, get the child or animal out of the car by any means necessary including breaking a window, and I'd ask questions last. 

Too many children and animals have died in hot cars 2014 and we're only half-way through the summer. We've still got to get through the Dog Days of August (no pun intended).

I'm tired of waking up to the news that a child or pet has died because a parent forgot, had no child care options and could not take the child to work or an interview, or because the parent was tired of being a parent. There's a special place in Hell for that last category of parents.

It's simple: Children and pets in hot cars don't mix. Not even for 5 minutes.

As someone without kids, I don't understand forgetting kids or pets in the car. I panic when I think I might have let one of my cats wander into my closet and forgot to get them out before leaving for the day. Never mind that those little suckers can open my closet door on their own and regularly let themselves in and out. I'm known for returning to check the toaster, oven, microwave, and iron, even when I haven't used any of them before leaving. I'm not judging, mind you, I simply don't understand.

Put your purse, shoes, phone, or other "can't live without it" item (although, seriously, shouldn't a kid or a pet be this item?) in your backseat to prevent you from forgetting your child or pet. Or make your very own E-Z Baby Saver, invented by a 10-year-old, who is generously sharing his invention with the world for free because it's more important to him that kids live than for him to make a buck.

Whatever it takes, get in the habit of double and triple checking your backseat for stray kids or pets. Even when your car is parked safely at home, lock it, so no one gets in by accident.

If I walk by your car and see a child or pet, I'm busting in and asking questions later. You've been warned.

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    Jessica Gardner

    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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