Preventing Child Abuse By Neglect

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - April 04, 2007
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My son and I got into our car on the third level at Ala Moana Center. We were in the area near Neiman Marcus, where the uncovered concrete radiated heat. Despite the shade of a lone palm tree it was blazing in the car, so I turned on the AC right away. I needed to consult a map before leaving, so we sat there for a few minutes while I tried to figure out where we were going.

There were some unusual noises behind us. A beep of a horn, then some yelling. I was engrossed in the map and didn’t think anything of it until someone rapped on my window. I looked up to see a middle-aged woman with short hair gesturing at me to roll the window down, so I did.

“Are you leaving?” she asked in a very loud voice. I gestured to the map.


“I can help you,” she said, again very loudly.

I have to say I was confused. Why would this woman want to help me find Bachelot Street? I shook my head. I tried to explain that I would leave as soon as I was finished with the map.

I can help you!” she said again - even more loudly than the first. Did she think I could-n’t hear her?

Now I was annoyed. I knew she wanted to hurry me along so she could get my space, but a quick glance around told me it wasn’t the only empty space in the lot.

No, she said, but this was the only one around in the shade, and she had a dog.

Boy, I thought, was this woman pushy, or what?

“When I finish with this I will leave,” I told her, really aggravated now. She opened her mouth as if to say something, changed her mind and walked back to her car, and waited.

Flustered but determined not to let her rush me, I turned back to my map, found my destination, and then backed out of the space. The pushy woman drove right in.

I was out of the parking lot and heading up Piikoi when it dawned on me. I should have listened more carefully, because I had missed the most important thing that incredibly irritating woman had said. She had a dog. And she was after my space because she wanted to leave her dog in the car.


Folks, this was a typical day in the tropics - hot and muggy. The little shade provided by that palm tree would soon disappear with the movement of the sun. And shade or not, that car was going to heat up like an oven. I pitied the poor dog that was going to be roasting away inside.

I could have kicked myself. Why didn’t I speak up? She probably would have told me to mind my own business, but at least I would have let her know what she was doing was wrong.

The Hawaiian Humane Society says the most common cause of heatstroke in animals is locking them in a parked car. Even 10 minutes in a parked car could leave them with permanent brain damage or even kill them, because the temperature can climb as high as 160 degrees in a very short time. Cracking the windows does not keep the car cool enough to prevent overheating, or suffering.

Of course, I was more sensitive to this because of a very recent, very human tragedy. Three-year-old Sera Okutani was left in a car by her dad, and she died. I read one account that said her father “forgot” about her, which is why she was in that car for one and a half hours.

Sorry, but I cannot understand how that could happen. And I don’t understand why we don’t do more to prevent it.

Some people think we should have compassion for the parents because losing a child is punishment enough. But why? Why shouldn’t we make it a crime to deliberately leave a child unsupervised in a parked car? Why shouldn’t there be consequences for neglect that could lead to a child’s injury or death? That’s what it is when you knowingly gamble with a child’s welfare - neglect.


I know there are cases where a parent really does forget that a child is in the car - usually a sleeping infant hidden away in a backward-facing car seat. And, yes, I think there are special circumstances that call for compassion.

But those who knowingly leave their child alone are in a different category. They haven’t forgotten. They are just ignoring the risks. And that is, or should be, unacceptable. There ought to be a law against it and maybe this year, lawmakers will finally find the gumption to pass one.

But right now I’m coping with my own guilt. If that woman in the parking lot had said she was leaving her child in the car, I know I would have said something right away. I really wish I had had the sense and the presence of mind to speak up about her dog. And I hope that doggie didn’t suffer that day.

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