Vet Talk

Meet Dog X: What would you do?

I took an oath to protect animals and Frank was in (some) danger.

September 17, 2021 (published)
Outdoor temperature of 88F as seen on the car dashboard. Photo by Dr. Tony Johnson/VIN

At the risk of unintentionally winning the Edward Bulwer-Lytton prize, I'm going to start this one out thusly: It was a hot and muggy day.

I'd seen hotter – the Midwest becomes comparable to the middle layer of a Big Mac in the summertime (although slightly less meaty), but the day in question was still in the upper 80's. 

I had pulled into the parking lot of a drug store about mid-afternoon to pick up some liniments and unguents (and perhaps a brace of poultices). I had to sit in the car and call the pharmacy for said apothecary items, so I had a little time to kill while they were being prepped.

Suddenly, I noticed some movement to my left.

In the parking spot next to me was a green SUV with a pitty-looking dog in the passenger seat. The windows were cracked about 1/3 of the way down. Dog X sat inside, not seeming too concerned. He was looking around, but it seemed to me he was awaiting his owner's return. He was panting, and his gums were bright pink, but he didn't appear distressed. He hadn't seen me.

The rear 2/3 of the car were in full sunlight, while a hedge shaded the hood and a little bit of the dashboard. Dog X was mostly sitting, but now and again he would sit up and look towards the drug store, the thought bubble above his head surely reading C'mon – how long does it take to buy Preparation-H?

For some reason, I heard this in an Irish accent.

We've written about dogs in hot cars before and I have a tragic personal history with them, so I might be a little over-sensitive. But, in realizing my over-sensitivity, I sometimes worry that I am actually under-sensitive. I know it's pretzel logic, but it's hard living in my brain sometimes.

I had about 30 minutes to wait for my cataplasms and embrocations, so I pondered what to do about Dog X.

First off – that name. It just won't do. I examined him (or her?) a little closer. I decided I was going with Frank because he just seemed so very Frank.

You have to say it just right, though, with a little dip at the end like you've just swallowed your epiglottis: Fra-yunck.

Try it a few times, see if it feels right.

I made a little kissy noise (as one does with dogs) and Frank turned to regard me. He was nonplussed and I took his look to mean: You are not my owner. You are nothing more to me than a flea on my rump.

Frank waits patiently in his car for his owner to return. Is he is distress from heat? Is he about to be? Photo by Dr. Tony Johnson/VIN

He drooled a little, but not in the buckets-of-drool that dogs with heat stroke give off in a desperate attempt to cool off. This was just a wee drip-drip-drip. Classic Frank.

Just about then, I got the text that my salves and fomentations were ready for pickup. But what about Frank!?

Since I have no immunity in my state for breaking the window to give Frank some cooler air, my options were limited. (Do you have immunity in yours?)

I figured I had three, maybe four options.

  • See ya, Frank – hope your owner gets back before you turn into a hot puddle of strawberry goo.
    1. PROS: I get to leave and get my lotions and emollients and go home and go back to watching Golden Girls.
    2. CONS: It just ain't right! I took an oath to protect animals and Frank was in (some) danger. I would never be able to focus on whether or not Dorothy will find true love with Blanche's Uncle Lucas. Plus, it's wrong – did I mention that?
  • Wait it out for a bit.
    1. PROS: Maybe Frank's owner be back in a jiffy, bearing their little white paper bag of Preparation-H and walking stiffly.
    2. CONS: The Golden Girls are waiting. I want to go home.
  • Some sort of cockamamie rescue operation.
    1. PROS: Get to feel like Rambo mixed with Mother Teresa and maybe save Frank's life.
    2. CONS: What if he's aggressive? What if I break her car? What if she thinks I am staging a Franknapping and hauls off and shoots me? Tempers are short these days and “getting shot” was not on my to-do list.
  • Go into the store and ask for the manager so they can make an announcement.
    1. PROS: Might save Frank, kinda seems badass.
    2. CONS: The optics of going into a store and asking for the manager have changed in recent years, so I might be opening up a can of fish, or a kettle of worms or something, and end up on Tucker Carlson or John Oliver. Also, Frank's owner being asked to save her (probably just fine) dog via the overhead speaker in front of everyone would be the height of embarrassment and I don't know how she'd react. We're back to the shooting bit, again.

So…what happened?

As I tossed all of these options around in my pretzel-brain, she came back, hopped in the car and drove off.

It was all quite anticlimactic, really.

So, now as I dab my eyes at the wedding of Dorothy and Lucas and gently stroke my Edward Bulwer-Lytton trophy, tell me what you would have done in the comments section.


Andrea Slaugh
October 30, 2021

I hate shopping in summer, just for this very reason. People are so freakin' clueless. In this case, probably would have done what you did--watch to see if things got worse. And if they did, either contact the store manager or, if the dog appeared to be on the brink, call the police, then break the window & risk the consequences. Like the saying goes, "No jury would convict you." I did go into a big-box store one time & ask the manager to make an announcement when a dog was whining in a car with just one window cracked open..and the temp was over 90. I was also at a summer outdoor "no dogs" festival a few years back, where somebody brought their dog anyway & left it in the car.  In an open field, with no shade trees around anywhere. Found one of the festival organizers after about 15 minutes, who came to the car, took a look and decided the dog was okay. Here's hoping he was right.

September 17, 2021

I am a Veterinary professional who has been in the same position. I usually tell the store manager or courtesy desk first. Some stores will not intervene, at that point I call animal control.

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