Sue Harvey was walking through the parking lot of The Shops at Palm Desert June 1 when she noticed a dog locked in a car. The outside temperature was 102 degrees.
On a 75-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to 94 degrees; when the outside temperature is 90 degrees, inside temperatures can reach 109. According to statistics released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), at least 59 animals died from heat-related causes in 2021, while another 145 were rescued from potentially deadly situations. However, these numbers have been gathered from incidents reported in the media; the actual figures are likely much higher.
Knowing the animal's life was in danger, Harvey called 911 and then borrowed a hammer from a passerby and smashed the car’s window.
Rushed to VCA Valley Animal Medical Center & Emergency Hospital in Indio by an animal control officer, the dog was treated for heatstroke. Her temperature, taken at the scene via rectal thermometer, was 104.9 degrees — just 1.1 degrees shy of a temperature that can be fatal or cause irreversible brain damage in dogs.
Bystanders told reporting officer Rebekah Reyes that the dog, an 8-year-old Pomeranian mix, had been left unattended in the Chevy Colorado for at least 45 minutes.
As a result of Harvey's actions, PETA has honored her with a Compassionate Action Award. She will receive a framed certificate, vegan chocolate bars and a “Too Hot for Spot” sunshade for her car.
“A parked car’s internal temperature can reach deadly triple digits in just minutes, so every second counts for a dog trapped inside,” says PETA Senior Vice President Colleen O’Brien. “PETA is honoring Sue Harvey for saving this dog’s life and reminding us all to do whatever it takes to help vulnerable animals.”
A Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy arrested the dog’s guardian on suspicion of Penal Code 597.7 — leaving an animal in an unattended motor vehicle under conditions that could endanger its health or well-being. The woman was released on scene and could face a misdemeanor conviction and jail time.
The woman retrieved her dog the following day after paying $1,033 in medical bills. According to Officer Reyes, she admitted she was wrong and said she hoped to learn from her mistake.
Harvey told PETA, she would do it all over again if she had to, adding that she has purchased her own hammer to keep in her car for future emergencies.
“It’s very dangerous to leave pets in cars during high-temperature days,” said Erin Gettis, Riverside County Animal Services director. “Please leave your pets at home in the air conditioning or, when traveling with your pet, never leave them in a car.”
PETA suggests that anyone who sees a dog in a parked car should take immediate action: Write down the vehicle’s color, make, model and license plate number and rush to have nearby businesses page the car's owner. If they can’t be found, call 911. If authorities are unresponsive, do whatever it takes to save a life. Good Samaritans who rescue animals are protected by California law from civil and criminal liability if property is damaged during a rescue.
For more information on how to keep animals safe, visit peta.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Good Samaritan honored for saving dog from hot car in Palm Desert