Lynne Podesta didn’t set out to be a hero that Monday, June 18, when she went to Costless Market for a few items but that’s exactly what happened when she rescued a distressed Chihuahua from the confines of a locked car.
“I saw the little dog in there and he was already panting and running back and forth trying to find a way to cool off,” Podesta said. “The windows and doors were locked so I went into the grocery store and the checker paged the owner over the loudspeaker.”
Podesta returned outside and the security guard came over to see what was going on. He saw the dog and called Oakdale Police. Podesta, a retired firefighter, said she would’ve called the fire station but it was after hours and she didn’t want to call 911.
“I thought the fire station might have something that could unlock the vehicle,” Podesta explained.
Although a checker paged the owner of the vehicle three times, no one answered the page. At this point, police hadn’t shown — there were two simultaneous calls involving fights that took priority — and the dog was becoming more agitated.
“I waited a long time,” Podesta said. “At least 45 minutes had gone by and the dog was panting even harder. I wasn’t going to stand there and watch this dog die.”
One way or another, Podesta knew she was going to find a way to free the dog.
“Several attempts were made to try and find the owner,” Podesta said. “The dog was starting to panic.”
Podesta made one last attempt at opening the door with a knife but when that attempt failed, she made the decision to break the glass.
“There was a crack in the windshield and at first, I tried that, but I should’ve known better, tempered glass doesn’t shatter. It’s meant to hold together. So, I went to the rear window and it shattered right away,” Podesta said. “As soon as I had the dog, I gave it water.”
Inside the store, customers and Costless employees who had been watching, suddenly cheered when Podesta freed the dog. It wasn’t until the checker announced over the loudspeaker that someone had broken into the car to get the dog that the owner appeared.
The owner, Jane Smith*, and her young daughter were upset when they learned that they had unknowingly put their dog in danger.
“I knew it was illegal to leave a child in the car, but not a dog,” Smith said.
Oakdale Equine officer Joe Cruz and officer Mike Nixon responded to the scene after the glass had been shattered. Although it is illegal in California to leave an animal in a locked car, neither officer felt it was necessary to cite the pet owner.
“There was really no intent to hurt the dog,” Nixon said. “She was genuinely upset over the whole incident and hopefully, a lesson was learned.”
Smith said she hadn’t heard any of the pages as she’d been in the restroom.
“I was rushing to get things done and trying to get some shopping done. I turned the air conditioner on really high to make the car cold and gave the dog water before we went inside. I was in line when we heard and then I ran outside and saw two women with my puppy. There was glass everywhere and I didn’t know what had happened. We were both crying. I didn’t think anything like that could happen. I’d never want to hurt any animal.”
Smith thought that because the temperatures had been relatively mild that the dog would be safe inside the vehicle while she did her shopping.
Unbeknownst to Smith, the interior temperature of a locked vehicle on an 82-degree Fahrenheit day can rise to 109 degrees within a short period.
According to a heat study conducted by Stanford University, cracking the windows does not slow the rise in temperature of a closed vehicle and is just as deadly.
“I knew what could possibly happen but I would do it again,” Podesta said after police told her she’d have to replace the damaged window. “I waited and I tried to do multiple things. If it were a kid I would’ve broken the window without thinking.”
Smith chose not to ask Podesta to pay for the damage, saying, “We got the window replaced without calling the lady because I feel bad about the whole incident. We were just thankful our dog was okay.”
For her part, Smith said, even though she was embarrassed that she hadn’t known what a big mistake she’d made, she hoped others could learn from her mistake.
“Unless you know, you don’t know,” she said.