Police don’t advise smashing car windows to rescue dogs in hot weather

16 June 2023
What was claimed

Police have said that if you see a dog locked in a car in hot temperatures you should take pictures, call police, wait five minutes and break the car window. By doing so, you will not be charged with criminal damage and will provide police with evidence to take the dog owners to court.

Our verdict

This is not police advice. The National Police Chief’s Council says people should call 999 and ask for police if a dog is showing signs of distress or heat stroke. People who break a car window could be charged with criminal damage.

Claims that “police say” you can smash a window to rescue a dog from a hot car after taking a photograph and waiting five minutes have been shared almost 180,000 times on Facebook

The posts, which encourage others to copy and paste the content in order to share it more widely, say: “Police say if you see a dog locked in a car in case of high heat, take a picture of the dog and the car, call the police, wait 5 minutes and break the car window. 

“This way you will not be charged with criminal damage and will give evidence to the police to take the dog owners to court.”

But this isn’t true. The National Police Chiefs’ Council told Full Fact that the information shared online is “not accurate”. 

A spokesperson for the organisation added: “If you break a car window you could be charged with criminal damage.

“If you see a dog in a hot car that appears to be in distress and/or showing symptoms of heatstroke you should call 999 and ask for the police.”

False or misleading claims online have the potential to harm individuals—in this case potentially leading people to unwittingly break the law. As we have seen with the extremely high numbers of shares on these posts, online claims can spread fast and far, and are difficult to contain and correct. 

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

What should you do if you see a dog left in a hot car?

The RSPCA warns against dog owners leaving their pets in cars on a warm day even if parked in the shade or with the windows open, and says that doing so is “very dangerous and will cause your dog suffering and harm”.

The RSPCA's advice in an emergency is to call 999 and ask for the police, as the RSPCA may not be able to attend quickly enough and has no powers of entry so would need police assistance anyway. 

Advice on their website says: “If the dog's condition is critical, and the police haven't arrived yet, your instinct will be to break into the car to free them. But please be aware that this could be classed as criminal damage. 

“You may need to defend your actions in court, so please be sure you're doing the right thing. Legally, you can commit damage if you believe the car owner would consent to it if they knew the dog was in danger.”

The Criminal Damage Act 1971 says that a person charged with criminal damage might be deemed to have a “lawful excuse” if at the time of the offence they believed the person who was entitled to consent to the destruction or damage of the property (i.e. the owner of the car) would have consented to the damage if they had known of the circumstances. 

The RSPCA also recommends telling the police if you intend to break into the car and why, as well as taking photos or videos of the dog and getting contact details of any witnesses. However, doing this does not necessarily mean you will not be charged with criminal damage, as the post claims.

Once removed from the car, the RSPCA advises that the dog should be moved to a shaded or cool area, and be doused with cool but not cold water, avoiding their head. The dog should also be allowed to drink small amounts of cool water. 

If the situation isn’t critical (i.e. if the dog is not showing signs of heatstroke), the RSPCA advises attempting to establish how long the dog has been in the car (by checking a parking ticket, for example), and making a note of the registration. 

If parked in a car park for a shop or similar location, the advice is to ask a member of staff to make an announcement of the situation over the tannoy, if possible, and get someone to stay with the dog to monitor its condition. 

The RSPCA website contains more information on the signs of heatstroke in dogs.

Image courtesy of A n v e s h

Update 19 June 2023

This article was updated to shorten the text in the claim box.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.