Can You Break a Window to Save a Dog in a Hot Car?
Laws Vary by State
COTATI, CA – As summer approaches and temperatures rise, the danger of dogs dying because negligent owners left them in a hot car grows as well.
Even on a day when it’s 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can hit 90 degrees in just 10 minutes. On a hot day, the temperature inside a closed car can shoot as high as 116 degrees in the same amount of time.
What can you do, within your legal rights, if you see an animal in distress in a locked car? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, has some tips.
1. If you see an animal in distress, call 911.
Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life. Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened.
2. Know your state laws.
Although 29 states have some form of “hot car” law that prohibits leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle, the laws differ drastically from place to place:
- Only eight states — California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee — have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save a pet. Alabama and Arizona have bills pending.
- In six of those states — California, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin — “Good Samaritans” must first contact law enforcement before breaking into the car in order for their actions to be considered legal.
- In 19 states, only public officials such as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington).
- In New Jersey and West Virginia, although it is illegal to confine an animal in a hot car, no one has the authority to break into a vehicle to save the animal, not even law enforcement.
3. Let people know it’s not okay to leave their pet unattended in a car.
When an animal dies in a hot car, most of their humans say they left them “just for a minute.” If you see someone leave their animal in a parked car, tell them that even if it’s a pleasant day outside, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket fast. Cracking a window doesn’t eliminate the risk of heatstroke or death.
4. Get the message out with the Animal Legal Defense Fund sunshade
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has created sunshades that remind pet owners of the risks of leaving animals unattended in a car. The sunshades feature the message, “Warning: Don’t leave dogs in hot cars,” in lettering large enough to be readable from across a parking lot. It also urges people to call 911 if they find animals locked in a car and in distress.
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