Tesla ‘Dog Mode’ saves lives, but confuses alert humans

Why We Wrote This

Tesla offers a clever solution to the problem of protecting pets in cars. But a vigilant and compassionate public is still learning about the feature. 

Tesla introduced Dog Mode in February 2019, a feature that controls the car temperature while the driver is away from the vehicle.

“That’s my car!” shouted Ross Hunt as he sprinted toward a policeman standing near his Tesla Model S.

Mr. Hunt had left his toy poodle, Loki, in the car on a hot day. A small crowd had gathered. But he wasn’t worried about his dog: He thought they were about to smash the car window, reported the Independent.

Endangering the health of a pet by locking it in the car on a hot, or cold, day in the U.S. is illegal in at least 28 states. Even so, last year, 58 pets died in cars, reports People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Mr. Hunt, of Dublin, was charged with violating Ireland’s Animal, Health and Welfare Act. 

Dear Loki was never in danger. As Mr. Hunt explained in court this month, his Tesla was in “Dog Mode.” That’s an ingenious new feature that runs the air conditioner while the owner is away. But in an electric car, it’s almost silent.  Tesla owners can monitor the temperature with an app on their phone. If the battery charge falls to 20 percent, the app alerts the owner.

Loki enjoyed a comfortable 68 degrees F.  and the judge dismissed the charges. But electric and hybrid car owners say this happens a lot.

"I had to print signs for every window explaining that the car is constantly monitored and that the A/C is on after having to deal with the police three times in as many weeks. People don’t notice the display. I bought plastic frames with suction cups off of amazon to hold the signs. Thankfully, the cops were nice each time, although one insisted on actually getting into the car to check the temperature," wrote one owner in a Tesla forum. 

The compassion and vigilance of so many people is reassuring. In Dog Mode, the 17-inch Tesla display says: “My owner will be back soon. Don’t worry.” But to save law enforcement from false alarms, more handmade signs or a flashing Tesla screen might be needed, suggest Tesla owners.

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