The news ran rampant when a golden retriever died in a hot car at Lambeau Field July 11. Its owner was shopping inside. One news station reported the dog’s core temperature, when found, as too high to measure. The owner was charged with felony animal abuse.
The same day, in Smyrna, Tenn., 3-year-old Daylin Palmer died in an overheated car. His father had left him there for at least two hours. It was 93 degrees outside. The father faces felony child abuse charges.
On July 9, 3-year-old Oliver Dill died on a 90-degree day. His father forgot to drop him at childcare on the way to work and left him in the car. No charges have been filed. (Sadly, according to the National Safety Council, in more than 50 percent of cases where children die in hot cars, they have been forgotten about by their parents or caregivers.)
In Wisconsin, we are in a July heat wave. Many of us may forget — or not realize — how dangerous overheated cars are. It’s called the “Greenhouse Effect,” caused by the glass windows in automobiles.
According to noheatstroke.org, a vehicle’s temperature, on an 85-degree day, can rise to 109 degrees in 10 minutes. Even at 70 degrees, a car’s interior can reach 89 degrees in 10 minutes and 104 degrees in 30. And “cracking the windows” doesn’t help much at all.
On average, 38 children die every year after being left in parked cars, according to noheatstroke.org. Kidsandcars.org records that 889 children died this way between 1990-2018. 2018 set a record, with 52 deaths of children.
Children, as well as animals like dogs, are particularly vulnerable. Dogs do not sweat to cool themselves as humans do. Instead, they pant — not very effective in a hot car.
Children’s smaller body masses make them extremely vulnerable to heat stroke and dehydration. Elderly adults, many of whom are frail and suffer medical conditions, are likewise vulnerable.
I am a working-age adult. On July 8, my car’s air-conditioning failed. The car sat in a sunny parking lot all day. Its internal temperature was 110 degrees — even with the windows cracked open. I drove 27 miles, with the windows open and fans on. The car didn’t cool down.
Once home, I felt light-headed. Remembering that overheating can raise one’s body temperature, I decided to check. Mine was 99.7 degrees. My car’s AC is now fixed, but I gained valuable firsthand experience about the dangers of overheated cars.
Wisconsin does not have a law regarding unattended children in cars. Only 19 states do, including Illinois and Michigan. Perhaps, if all 50 states had such laws, awareness of the dangers would rise.
Whatever the law, though, children should not be left in parked cars. Never. Nor should animals. Nor the elderly.
For whatever reason — neglect, forgetfulness, ignorance or distraction — people forget children or pets — or leave them there too long. So we’re all called to protect them.
If you see a child or animal unattended in a car — not matter the temperature — call the police. Yes, you can call 911, especially if you see a child in a car. The police will respond. They’ll come for a dog, too. If the child is in distress, get them out. You will not be blamed for being “a meddler.” Wisconsin does have a “Good Samaritan Law” (895.24,1) to keep people “immune from civil liability” if they try to help “at the scene of an emergency.”
Just remember how hot you feel when the temperature hits 90, especially when you get into a parked car. As psalm 139 says, we are “wonderfully made” (14), but we are also fragile. And the most vulnerable among us need our protection.
Remember, like Cain should have known, we “are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers.”