Protect the pups: Steamboat Police rescue more animals from vehicles as temperatures rise

As temperatures rise and more visitors arrive in Steamboat Springs, animal control officers have received an increase in calls about dogs left in vehicles. In Steamboat, it is a crime to leave animals in vehicles when the temperature is at or above 70 degrees.
Stock photo/Shutterstock

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As more people travel around town for summer events, recreation or just a trip to the grocery store, animal control officers with the Steamboat Springs Police Department have seen a spike in reports of dogs locked inside vehicles.  

Leaving animals inside an unattended vehicle, even for short periods, can lead to permanent injuries or death.

A dog died in Rifle last week after its owner left it inside a vehicle. A sobbing caller notified Rifle Police Department officers of the situation, but by the time they arrived, it was too late.

Steamboat city ordinances make it illegal to keep dogs or cats unattended inside vehicles, or in the uncovered bed of a truck, when the outside temperature is at or above 70 degrees. Violators may be charged with animal cruelty and be forced to surrender their pets to authorities. 

One exception allows animals to remain in a vehicle if, “in the opinion of the officer, adequate ventilation and water are provided,” according to the city’s municipal code. 

With the National Weather Forecast in Grand Junction predicting highs in the mid-80s for the next week, officials urge people to leave pets at home rather than risk the consequences.

Jennifer Good, the city’s animal control supervisor, has already handed out several animal cruelty citations specific to this violation — an issue that tends to rise with the temperature.

“Calls are increasing for hot dogs in cars,” she said. “We are worried about their health and safety.”

As Dr. Karen Nann, a veterinarian from Steamboat’s Pet Kare Clinic, explains, temperatures inside a car rise exponentially compared to the outside temperature. 

“If it is 80 degrees outside, you are looking at over 100 degrees inside a car within 10 minutes,” she said. 

Dehydration will soon set in at such high temperatures, followed by more serious, internal damage. 

“All of your organs basically start cooking from the inside,” Nann said.  “It can happen really suddenly.”

She remembers a dog from last summer that had been left inside a car and came into her office with an internal temperature of 106 degrees, almost three degrees hotter than a dog’s maximum average temperature.

She and her team were able to rescue the animal by wrapping it in cold towels and attaching an IV for fluids. 

“In those cases, what you want to do is decrease the temperature as fast as possible,” Nann said.

That dog was able to fully recover, according to Nann, but she warned animals could suffer permanent heat damage if they don’t receive medical attention within 30 minutes. 

Owing to the time-sensitive nature of this issue, Colorado law grants immunity to any passersby who notices a distressed animal inside a hot vehicle and breaks a window to save it. To not be liable for the damage, the person must have reasonable belief that the dog might die and make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner. They also have to call 911 before breaking in.

According to Good, local animal control officers have not had to break any car windows to rescue pets. They quickly are able to alert police officers, who can use less destructive methods to get inside the vehicle. 

“Because we are right here in town, we are so close to being able to respond to those calls,” she said.

With upcoming events this weekend, like the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival and Art in the Park, Good advises people to leave their four-legged friends at home.  

“Your animals would be much happier to be at home where it is cool and comfortable, than inside a car in those stressful public places in the heat,” she said.

For more information and tips on protecting animals from the heat, visit

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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