Conventional wisdom says “never leave a dog in a car” because he’ll die from the heat. A modern car, however, has nearly all of the makings of a perfect kennel: (1) two energy sources: battery and gas tank/engine, (2) fans that can bring in fresh air, (3) interior temperature sensors (cars where you set “72 degrees” on the dashboard), (4) power windows, (5) clear windows that are coated with high-tech materials that reject IR and UV light. Plus the car is a familiar place for the dog and most dogs seem to prefer being in their normal car to being tied up somewhere unfamiliar. With 100 lines of computer programming a car could do the following:

  1. blow air in or, ideally, out of the car when the temperature rose above 70 degrees
  2. roll down the windows a bit
  3. turn the engine on and start the air conditioner, notifying the owner that it was getting a bit roasty out there for Fido [doing this mass-market would require a working wireless Internet infrastructure in the United States, something that has been discussed here earlier but is apparently not a high priority for our politicians]
  4. if the gas tank were getting low, roll down all the windows and shut off the engine, notifying the owner that the dog was at risk of escape or theft

The system could be made a bit better if the car had, in addition to the windows, a slideable stainless steel or Kevlar mesh that could roll up and down. Then the dog and the car could be secure with all the windows up.

Because car makers don’t open their computer systems to programming (I never thought I’d say this but I wish that cars ran Windows XP so that I could add the above features myself in Visual Basic), it isn’t possible to build this right now very easily. However, I think I have a solution.

Suppose that you don’t really use the back seat of your car. You can install a stainless steel wire mesh on the inside of the back windows, essentially stapled to the door frame. Attached to the inside of the mesh on one side put a 12V exhaust blower fan. You can now roll down the rear windows, put a sunshade across the windshield, and the temperature inside the car should not exceed the temperature outside. Maybe add a provision for a temporary fine-mesh screen for summer evenings so that mosquitos don’t get into the car.

One issue with the car/kennel idea is that the motor might run the battery down. However the only time you’d want to use the fan is in the summer when the battery power is at its peak and the power required to start the engine is at its lowest. You wouldn’t be leaving the dog for more than an hour or two so even the most powerful fans wouldn’t exhaust the battery.

I’m planning to do this with my next car. I like minivans because it is easy to keep a bicycle in the car (I have trouble walking so like to have a bike available at all times). There are some new minivans available that have middle windows that roll down, e.g., Toyota Sienna 2004. Before I trade in my 5-year-old minivan I am hoping that someone will introduce a gas/electric hybrid minivan but if it doesn’t happen by February 2004 I’ll buy a new Sienna and start stapling.

Better ideas anyone?

[Update 2019: “Tesla introduces ‘Dog Mode’ to keep your pets from getting too hot”]

29 thoughts on “Car/Kennel

  1. Don’t forget a little camera to send pictures of poochie to your mobile phone on request. You have to be able to check on him.

  2. A few battery/solar fans you attach to the windows to draw air out, wouldn’t have to be connected to the car’s power supply at all. Install them from the inside so they cannot be removed from the outside. Four windows, four fans. Not sure about a van with only two front windows that roll down.

    But if these devices work, they work fairly cheaply with almost all cars on the road today.

  3. Solar-powered fans are too wimpy. Maybe add a solar trickle charger for the battery but you really want to move some air.

  4. What if some idiot came along and slashed the mesh and stole your dog, radio, bike etc? Or just slashed the mesh for the hell of it without stealing anything, but your dog jumped out and ran away?

  5. Solar-powered fans are too wimpy.

    That’s what I thought. But there are solar powered attic fans that claim to move 800 cubic feet per minute. So I don’t know, considering the car will be cool already and is much smaller than an attic.

  6. Slashed the mesh, Alisa? A Kevlar or welded stainless steel mesh is not likely to be breached without some bolt cutters and/or violence that would set off the alarm.

  7. Do da name RUBE GOLDBOIG strike a familia note ? ? ?

    Leave the damned dog at home.

  8. Not quite what you need, but this is a start.

    Cool. (!) This is exactly what I envisioned.

    I guess I’ll stop writing the patent application now. 8^)

  9. Well, I guess not exactly what I envisioned, but on the right track. You have to roll the window down a bit for more air flow, and beef the fan up to the attic unit’s.

  10. The attic fan probably has a square foot of solar cells, not a few square inches, and it says “up to 800 cfm” which probably means in Phoenix at noon in the summer. We’re not leaving the dog in the car for more than an hour or two and the battery keeps getting recharged. Solar is good for situations in which you are walking away for months at a time.

  11. Nothing on the dog/heat issues, but:

    – if the only reason you need a minivan is to carry a bike for short trips, get a folding bike (Brompton, Dahon) instead. I carry one in the back of my little Saab. Very handy for parking in San Francisco since it increases your allowable radius considerably.

    – if you really need a minivan, Toyota has a very nice looking hybrid called the Estima. Not available here in the US, sadly.

  12. Mike: I have the Giant Halfway bike, which I love, but I prefer a mountain bike for riding in the woods or on dirt/gravel roads. Also the Halfway is not very compact (20″ wheels). What have you learned about folding bikes? How is the Brompton for example?

  13. A car already has a secure way of getting outside air in through the ac/heating ducts. I would think of a way to run this existing fan. May be replace it with a high efficiency that moves a lot of air without drawing too much current, if there is such a thing. Not only this is more secure, you will also get filtered air to protect from dust/insects etc. regards

  14. The low-end Dahon Boardwalk is cheap and good for short road rides. The Brompton has a similar range, I’ve heard. It’s more expensive, folds smaller, and exudes a certain air of British tweediness. Brompton has some fanatical devotees. Dahon has a mountain bike model, rather pricey. I have been using the Boardwalk and will probably upgrade to a better Dahon or Brompton soon.

    Lots more information here and here.

  15. This is great for Boston/Cambridge, but I’m not sure it would work in the South or Southwest in the summertime. In Texas, your A/C would have to run continuously to keep the car interior below 80 degrees in the sunshine from May through September. (maybe not if you can park the whole car in the shade, but I don’t think I’d risk it with my dog.)

    Of course, I guess you’d have the opposite problem in the winter in the north… unless you have a collie or husky or something. A solution that works for half the year is better than none.

    Actually, now that I think of it, a car can idle continuously for several days on a full tank of gas, so if you’re willing to just leave your car running, I guess it could work year round.

  16. Cute.

    > 3) turn the engine on and start the air conditioner, notifying the owner that it was getting a bit roasty out there for
    > Fido [doing this mass-market would require a working wireless Internet infrastructure in the United States, something
    > that has been discussed here earlier but is apparently not a high priority for our politicians]

    Or perhaps a(n easier to achieve) working mobile phone network? Then your car could SMS you on your phone if anything noteworth was happening (HLP! FDO XCPING!)

  17. There are plenty of solutions for alternate power avaialbe from the customizers. Especially if you get a minivan you could install several alternate batteries with a second alternator.

  18. The uber-yuppie solution to a compact yet robust (none of this 20″ wheels stuff) is having an existing steel, or better yet titanium frame retrofitted with S&S couplers (examples at Gotta say i haven’t used one but that design is beautiful, unless it creaks like crazy. They have lots of examples of bikes “folding” down tiny but a less labor-intensive application might be to leave the bike mostly intact and just break the frame apart once. The beauty is that in the end you have a real bike instead of some folding mini-wheeled contraption.

    Also, i know it’s not very elegant but you can easily fit two normal bikes with wheels removed into the trunk of a corolla. If you care sufficiently little about your rear seats you can throw 2 bikes with rear tires on across them. No place for the dog then, though!

  19. “Because car makers don’t open their computer systems to programming (I never thought I’d say this but I wish that cars ran Windows XP so that I could add the above features myself in Visual Basic), it isn’t possible to build this right now very easily. However, I think I have a solution.”

    Most cars these days only crash when you actually run into something. Why change now?

  20. Beau has the idea I would recommend. One or two secondary batteries. The stereo repair shop I worked at in college also did custom car audio installations which required the same thing. There are companies that make higher output alternators for a wide range of cars to specifically serve the multi-battery trunk of funk crowd.

  21. Well I didn’t know it was that kind of mesh. I mean, I have shirts that are made of mesh. I thought mesh is mesh. (I think there’s a Will & Grace episode in here somewhere).

  22. An industry already exists to address this issue, at least if you drive a Crown Vic: police canine supply.


    for the Criminalistics “Hotdog” temperature monitor; it rolls down your windows and starts a mounted electric fan when the temperature reaches a certain point.

  23. I was excited to learn just now that an off-the-shelf Toyata Prius is able to maintain a comfortable temperature for a dog on a hot (or cold!) day while locked with all windows closed:

    Here is the relevant portion:

    And of course there’s our dog, SAM…

    HybridCars: Pardon?

    John: SAM is considered part of the family. I discovered that the Toyota has an excellent climate control system. It can maintain a specific temperature even while parked and unattended. Quite often we like to take SAM for a run after shopping or visiting friends so we bring him along. Because of the climate control system we can leave him in the car on hot or cold days and the car will maintain a desired temperature while parked in the lot.

    HybridCars: I’ve never read any reports of this!

    John: Yeah, with millions of dog owners around you would think this to be a good topic for expansion however I think there are careful considerations such as having enough gas in the tank. You wouldn’t want to run out of gas as the car would heat up fast on a summer day.

    HybridCars: So how does it work and can present day Prius owners do the same?

    John: Yes I believe so. It works like this – The Prius comes with two keys, one a master to open doors, set anti theft systems, start the car and the other key is just ignition. So I can keep the car on, roll up the windows and lock it up with SAM inside. The engine will start up and shut off as needed to maintain the set temperature. Say for example I set the temperature for 68 degrees Fahrenheit and it is 95 outside. The car will auto start for a few minutes to operate the compressor as needed. So when I return an hour or more later, SAM is happy and the car’s interior is exact to what I set it for. Most people don’t realize that leaving a dog in a car for even a short period of time on a hot day tortures the animal. Even with windows cracked open a few inches it is still brutal.

    But of course the best idea is to not have your dog or animal with you if you have to leave it for more than a few minutes in any car or truck.

    HybridCars: Does it work the same in cold weather?

    John: Exactly. I have used this technique on cold days where it was around 7 or 8 degrees Fahrenheit and it regulated the temperature perfectly. And because of the quietness of the car and the small amount of exhaust, it is hard for anyone to notice it running.

  24. And, if all that computer programming fails and the dog dies I’d hope the car would turn the heater on to make sure it’s cooked properly.

  25. Hi Phil,

    I’d like an update on this – did you take it further? Was it successful? I’m looking for a solution to the weekend away problem – we have two dogs and we’d like to travel with them, spending some of the time on beaches, walking and other dog-friendly activities, and some of the time in museums, eating posh lunches and other non-dog-friendly activities. We’ve about to buy a car, and I’d really like to solve this problem, but unfortunately the only out-of-the-box solution seems to be a pick-up, parked in the shade – and my husband doesn’t like the image and hates the idea of something so gas-guzzling to commute in.

    My best potential solution at the moment, to be tested, is to buy a pale coloured car, get reflective screens for any potentially sunny windows, get grilles so that the windows can stay open, and park in the shade – plus use a wireless device to warn of a temperature rise.

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