Yes, I Broke Into a Mercedes with My Car Jack

Let me be clear: I smashed the window of a stranger’s car to save a dog whose life was at risk.

It wasn’t how I’d planned to spend my warm Friday evening on June 23rd. I was meeting family and friends for happy hour in NW Portland. I had parked my car on the street and gone to the parking meter to pay for time (it was just before 5:00pm). As I was waiting for the parking slip to dispense, I heard barking. I looked around and didn’t see anything. I waited another minute and heard more barking. I walked toward the sound. In the backseat of a black Mercedes was a tiny crate. Inside the crate, I could see a small dog in distress. All the car windows were rolled up, and only the moonroof was tilted open about an inch.

“F**k,” I said to myself. I looked at the time stamp on the parking slip in the window of the car. It was purchased at 4:47 pm and was good until 6:47 pm. Two damn hours.

As a former communications and PR specialist for a 24-hour emergency animal hospital, I knew this was a bad situation that was only going to get worse — quickly. I immediately called Multnomah County Animal Services. They instructed me to call the nonemergency police line, which I did. Police would be dispatched over, but they couldn’t tell me how long it was going to take. Because, you know, crime.

By this point, a passerby named Suzanne had stopped to ask what was going on. My sister, Lia, had also arrived. The three of us began going around to every business in the immediate area, asking if anyone owned the vehicle. Everyone said no. At that point, a waitress from Caffe Allora came out and informed us that she’d noticed the owners of the car enter a big apartment building next door. I knew there was no way I’d be able to locate them in time, even if I could find a way to get into the building.

Time was passing, and the dog inside the car had stopped barking and was plastered against the very back of the crate (which was angled on the seat). I knew she was trying to get as low to the ground as possible, and I could see her panting.

I’d thought about this scenario many times. I’ve called about dogs left in hot cars before. A former coworker and I once rescued a dog who was running loose and panicked on a freeway in the middle of summer. I’d seen heatstroke cases at DoveLewis during my employment there. But I’d never found myself in this situation, having to make a decision about whether or not to break a window.

According to weather stats, the temperature outside was between 84–90 degrees from noon to 6:00pm. Temperatures inside a car increase by an average of 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes, 29 degrees in 20 minutes, and 33 degrees in 30 minutes — regardless of the outside temperature (Oregon Humane Society). Skeptical? Try sitting in your car for a while with the windows rolled up on a warm day and see how you feel. Trust me, it’s all bad (even when you’re not wearing a fur coat).

I desperately tried to set off the car alarm, in the hopes that the owners would hear it and come outside. I shook the car and hit it with my hands, feeling like a crazy person. No luck.

Suzanne said she thought a new law had just passed the day before, allowing good samaritans to break a car window in this type of situation. Admittedly, I had already decided to do what needed to be done, law or no law. I later learned from the officers that Suzanne was right — House Bill 2732 was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday, June 22nd.

After the owner of Thelonious Wines refused to loan me something to use to break the car window (saying curtly that he didn’t want to be involved for the sake of his business/liability), it occurred to me that I had a car jack in my trunk. I grabbed it, my fists clenched and heart racing. I’d never damaged anyone’s property, and I certainly don’t like making a scene. I’m an introvert, and this was way outside of my comfort zone. I clenched my teeth and swung the car jack like a baseball bat as hard as I could.

“Clunk!” Nothing happened. I swung again, harder. Still nothing. I began to feel the tears building up. I was trying with all my might to get to this poor dog, but I couldn’t physically break the window. My hands were bleeding and I was beginning to fear the worst. Looking down the street, I saw two men walking toward me. I approached them, in the hopes that they would be able to offer some advice.

“I’m not asking you to do anything, but can either of you tell me how to break a car window?” I asked, explaining the situation. At that moment they could’ve walked away. The whole predicament was making people uncomfortable. And yeah, I get it. No one wants to deal with the possibility of owing money or having legal troubles. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if this animal died while I sat on the sidewalk and simply let it happen.

“I’m not sure what to do, but my buddy should be pulling up any second and he’ll know,” said the one guy, grabbing his cell phone. About a minute later, three more men pulled up and stopped on the street. One of them got out and walked over to me, holding out his metal water bottle. “You can use this,” he said. I looked at the water bottle, feeling deflated. “Here,” I responded. “Let me show you where I’m at with this situation.”

Again, I picked up my car jack — which he hadn’t yet seen — and launched it into the middle of the window. It bounced back, leaving the glass perfectly intact.

“Oh, shit!” he said, seeming a bit surprised. “You won’t break it if you hit it in the middle — you have to aim for the corner.” I swung again, this time hitting the window as he advised. The glass splintered. I smashed through it and unlocked the back door. I grabbed the crate and pulled out the dog. The crew at Caffe Allora had brought over a big tub of water to help cool the animal. After we tended to the dog, Suzanne began sweeping the glass and I went to clean myself up.

During all this commotion, another concerned passerby named Mary Ann had stopped to be a second witness, in case I needed support when the police arrived. As I was walking out of The Bar Method Portland (where they were kind enough to give me towels), I spotted the police responders who were looking around trying to figure out where to go. “The dog is right over here,” I said. “I already broke the window.”

The police checked the dog and then began taking down my information. In the midst of this, the owner of dog and the owner of the car finally appeared. They were two young men who looked to be about 17 or 18 years old. They appeared shocked and puzzled. The owner was perplexed, saying he thought that leaving the moonroof cracked was sufficient. I, along with the police officers, explained it was not. Surprisingly, the owner of the vehicle thanked me.

This is, sadly, not the last time an animal will be left inside a hot vehicle. Please share this story with as many people as possible — to raise awareness that even on a seemingly “nice” 70-degree day, it’s not okay to leave your dog in the car.

In circumstances like these, inaction is unacceptable. The craziest thing we can do is nothing. Speak up. Act swiftly and responsibly. In Oregon (and some other states), you have the law on your side. But more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Special thanks to: The men who stopped to give me advice about how to break a car window, Suzanne, Mary Ann, Lia, Cameron, Officer Kyffin Marcum and his partner, the entire staff at Caffe Allora, Michael, Joe, and my trusty car jack.