How to (Legally) Help Dogs in Hot Cars This Summer
Tips from the Animal Legal Defense Fund
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 with all the windows closed 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.
If you see an animal in distress, call 911.
Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened. Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life.
Know your state laws.
More and more states are adopting “hot car” laws that prohibit leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle. Although 22 states have some form of “hot car” laws, the laws differ drastically from place to place:
- Only three states—Wisconsin, Florida and Tennessee—have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save a pet. (Ohio has a law that will become effective at the end of August 2016)
- In 17 states, only public servantssuch as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California. Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, 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.
- Legislation is pending in California and New York to give any concerned bystander the legal right to help an animal in distress. Pending legislation in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to confine a dog or cat in a vehicle in conditions that would jeopardize its health and would empower a police officer, a volunteer or professional fireman, a humane officer, a security guard, or a first responder to rescue the animal.
Penalties for hot car deaths of companion animals are still limited. Most states limit penalties to misdemeanors or civil fines and infractions, even for repeat offenders. Maine and South Dakota’s laws don’t impose a penalty at all (although an owner in Maine may regain custody of an animal removed from their vehicle only after they pay all charges that accrued for the maintenance, care, medical treatment and impoundment of the animal).
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 pet 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.
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. They also urge people to call 911 if they find animals locked in a car and in distress.
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