This past Saturday my friend, Abby, and I dropped by the Carytown Kroger to grab a bottle of wine before going to our friend's birthday cookout. Normally trips to the grocery store don't amount to a blog post, but this time it did. You see, we saw a dog in a car, in the parking lot, on a 90° day. I am not fabricating: I pulled up my weather app, and it told me it was 91° F.
Now we weren't trying to be alarmists. We saw the pooch, who I'll call Buddy, in the back of the Mercedes, tongue out, happy as could be, but nevertheless, locked in a car with the windows cracked while I sweated in a tank top (what's new). Also, only weeks before, I read the Washington Post's long-form article on children left in cars (who generally die). One fact that stuck with me from that article was a child who died in a car on a 60° day in March. Cars are ovens.
Abby and I decided the dog's owner could have run into the store and would be right back. We weren't worried until we came out with our wine fifteen minutes later and Buddy was still there. We debated what to do.
Of course, standing by a car with a dog in it in the middle of the parking lot drew some other shoppers' attention. We found ourselves fielding, "Is that a dog in the car? How long has it been there?" a few times. Honestly, others' outrage far exceeded our own concern.
"What sort of people..."
"It's ninety degrees out!"
"You've got to be an asshole to do this!"
I went into Kroger and shared with an associate that there was a dog locked in a car in the (hot) parking lot. "Do you have a protocol for this?"
They asked me to take a photo of the license plate and they would make an announcement. So outside I went to snap the photo to find Abby flanked by others. One of the observers was a middle-aged woman in pinstriped dress who will become integral to this story. She followed me into Kroger with her shopping cart. When the employee made the announcement ("Will the owner of the black Mercedes with license plate blah blah blah come to the customer service desk?), the woman quipped, "You're not going to repeat the announcement? I don't think anyone heard it."
Also, personally, if I had been on the speaker, I would have mentioned the leather interior, the 91° F, feels like 95°, and the canine trapped inside. But that's just me.
Of course no one came to the front.
I returned outside. A small crowd remained around the car. Buddy had taken to lying in the shade of the backseat, tongue still out, body rising up and down with each pant.
"Oh, Buddy," I think I said. Actually, I didn't.
I did stick my fingers through the window's crack and felt the car's temperature. Definitely warm. Also, I was sweating through my shorts. There was no way to defend any of this. It's 2016. Even if you think and/or know your dog will be okay, you've got to know others are going to see your dog locked in the car and be concerned.
"What should we do?" I asked Abby. "Do we call non-emergency?"
And that's what I did. The operator asked for our location and what I was wearing, then said they would send an officer out to us.
Meanwhile, the crowd grew. Also, our middle-aged woman friend (with shopping cart) returned. A store associate trailed her.
"How long has it been?" she said. "This is ridiculous."
"Over thirty minutes," Abby said.
A store associate trailed her. "We've made an announcement twice, but no one's come down. And they could not be in the store."
A couple passed by at this point, saw us congregated around the car, and then asked, "Is there a dog in there?"
Me: "If you read question one under Frequently Asked Questions: yes."
Man: "What the f--k! It's ninety degrees out."
Me: "I called non-emergency."
Store associate: "They're just gonna break the windows and take the dog out."
Man: "If that's what they'll do, why wait? I can break their windows. I have stuff in my car."
The man walked away, presumably to his car.
Store associate: "If you all are gonna break the windows, I've got to leave. I can't watch this."
The man returned with no tools. Instead, he began prying at the driver's window with his bare hands. I was confused if he thought he could actually remove the window that way. He then tried reaching through the crack to unlock the door. This is when it hit me: my wrists and forearms were thinner than his; I could probably reach through the window easier. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is when you stop listening: I broke into the car.
I reached through the window crack, accessed the door handle, and pulled.
The door opened.
The alarm went off.
"Who cares about the alarm" was the crowd's consensus. And, I mean, true; we could have shattered this car's windows instead.
"Get the dog out," someone commanded.
Except breaking into a car is one thing. I'm not about to reach into the car now and prod a dog to get out. Buddy looked friendly - he stared blankly at the crowd around us while the car bleated, no barks, no growls - but I was not going to risk my hand.
Thankfully, there were other willing martyrs. A woman slipped a leash on the dog and then handed the leash to Abby. I shut the car door, my fingerprints all over everything, and we walked Buddy up to Kroger into the shade.
Naturally, the cop shows up at this point. I give him a SparkNotes update on everything that's happened and why we now have a dog on a leash.
"And did you tell Kroger to make an announcement?" he asks.
"Yes," I say, because no, I didn't break into a car without exhausting other options first.
"I'm going to go check if the owner's at the bank," the cop replies.
And so we sit with the dog.
And then we see it - an older woman has arrived at the car, the black Mercedes, and has begun to unload her groceries into the trunk. She has not even noticed the missing dog yet, let alone she walked right past us with her dog. But then I see confusion spread across her face.
It turns out, our middle-aged woman friend in the pinstriped dress was parked opposite Cruella's car. She had now taken it upon herself to call Cruella out. And good for her.
"WHAT? WHERE IS MY DOG?"
Cruella throws her hands up and looks frantically around the parking lot.
Abby and I begin race walking toward Cruella as Cruella rushes at us. I can't report the exact exchange that happened other than "You have my dog," "You left your dog in the car for 40 minutes," "I did not! He was not in there that long, he was fine," "It's 91 degrees out," "You went into my car," "We made announcements on the Kroger speaker," "He would've been fine," "I called non-emergency police."
That shut her up.
By this point she had taken Buddy's leash from Abby and was bee-lining it to her escape vehicle and Buddy's former prison. I think the police comment lit a fire that only could be compared to the Hindenburg.
"Thank you," she said stiffly.
Abby and I watched her put Buddy back into the car and rush to finish loading her groceries into trunk. Meanwhile, our friend stood a parking spot away and lectured Cruella on leaving dogs in cars on 90° days.
And that's basically how the story ends. We did tell the cop we returned the dog, and our friend intercepted to tell the cop he should also talk to Cruella, but then (of course) a big white van pulled out and blocked the cop from reaching Cruella before she sped out of the parking lot. But it's crazy how slowly and subtly a situation can escalate. Abby and I didn't have to say anything. We could have driven away with our bottle of wine and left Buddy in the car. And he probably would've been fine. But also, who knew when Cruella was coming back? Or if she didn't realize this was wrong? Maybe now she'll think twice about leaving Buddy in an oven on an August afternoon. And at least Abby and I had a story for the cookout.