Dogs & Laws

Protecting Dogs in Hot Cars: What is YOUR State’s Law?

Is it against the law to leave a dog unattended in a hot car?

Are you sure about that?

Although animal cruelty, neglect, endangerment, and abuse in a variety of forms are illegal in all 50 states in varying degrees that can earn the offender a simple citation all the way up to a felony charge, only 28 of those states have laws on the books specifically prohibit leaving an animal locked inside a hot car. (On the bright side, that’s up from only 16 states in 2015!)

hot cars


While 28 states have enacted laws that specifically prohibit leaving dogs in hot cars, most prohibit good Samaritans from taking measures to free a trapped dog. Only 11 states have granted legal right to citizens to use any means necessary (yes, that includes smashing a window) to save a distressed dog.

Those 11 states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Interestingly, while Indiana allows citizens to rescue dying dogs from hot cars, they are the only state that requires the person rescuing the dog to pay the vehicle owner or lessee an amount equal to half of the cost of damages incurred by the forced entry. (i.e.: half the cost of replacing a broken window)

What about those other states?

Although the remaining 21 states may not have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a dog (or other animal) unattended in a vehicle, all 50 states have laws in place to protect animals from abuse, neglect, and cruelty.

It can be argued that a dog left unattended in a parked car, without protection from extreme heat (or cold), that is suffering or showing signs of distress, is the victim of cruelty.

In other words, even though a dog owner may reside in one of the 21 states without specific laws to protect dogs in hot cars, they can be (and very often are) charged with animal cruelty for doing so.

Additionally, although state laws may not specifically address dogs trapped in hot cars, many county and municipal laws do address the issue. Check with your own city and county to be sure of the exact laws in your area.

So what is a concerned animal lover that spots a dog suffering inside a hot car supposed to do?

littledoghotcarCurrently, there are 11 states that grant legal permission to concerned citizens to break and enter a vehicle to save a distressed animal.

If you see a dog in a parked car, no matter which state or what that state’s laws provide for:

1. Make every reasonable effort possible to locate the dog’s owner.

2. Call local police and animal control and report the incident.

3. Remain with the dog until help arrives.

4. If the dog is in imminent danger and help has not yet arrived, you’ll have to use your own judgement, considering the possible legal ramifications of breaking and entering to save the dog.

Many of us would happily face criminal charges, fines, and possible jail time if it meant saving the life of a dog.



  1. Caden Dahl

    Oct 30, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    With my dog, I would never leave them in the car as I know how hot it can get in there. I’ve seen a couple of news stories where people have broken a window to save a dog in a car where the owner has left them. As you mentioned, there are quite a few states that give you a legal right to do that and I do hope that the states that haven’t, soon change their mind.

  2. here

    Oct 17, 2018 at 4:50 am

    Awesome post.

  3. Doug

    Sep 4, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    On 04Sept2018, I drove an hour with AC on 58 with my 50 lb dog in the floor. I went into McDonalds to pee and back at my car in less than 2 minutes. Some nut job is screaming at me to leave the windows down or leave the car on; either so he can steal my $2,000 dog or my $30,000 van (no thank you.). I asked him to stick his arm in the van and see that it is still cooler in the van than outside in the 86 deg weather and my dog was showing no signs of being hot. We then went to Steak and Shake where I waited in line in the hot beating sun for 10 minutes with the vehicle not running; me nor my dog got warm. We’ve gone on 5 hour hikes in the woods in this weather and he refuses to drink. Vet says he’ll drink when he is hot, don’t worry about it.
    BTW: I’m an expert at thermodynamics; I know exactly how long it will take to heat my vehicle.
    Moral of the story; just because a dog or child is locked up in a vehicle leave it alone unless it is showing signs of distress.

  4. Susan

    Jun 20, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Do you ever wonder why certain odd things are against the law, but other things that should be against the law, aren’t? Not being able to break into a hot car to rescue a child or pet is one of the former. Allowing a perp to sue a person or business for injuries acquired in the commission of a crime is one of the latter. IMO, it is because our intensely self-centered lawmakers first consider how the law would affect THEM. Also, please keep in mind that to politicians, children and pets are property, and parents and owners can treat them how they please.

  5. Robert

    May 30, 2018 at 3:09 am

    Dogs are the most loyal friends I’ve ever seen, I love them so much but it’s so bad that in the country where I live, there are no rules to protect them. Hopefully the authorities will soon do this.

  6. Miguel

    Sep 22, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Why is everyone on here arguing when at the end of the day we all want the same thing, to make sure the animal is safe?….. Yes, I understand that it would be upsetting to have your window broken when your dog is fine and I agree people should make sure the animal is in distress before resorting to it, but at least there are people out there worried enough about animals to want to help….

  7. Connie

    Sep 1, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    When I take my dog with me on a quick run to the post office or store etc, I use my remote start to start the car so the air/con or heater depending on season is on. Before I start my car, I put a note on the windshield, the driver and passenger side windows that the car is running, air (or heat is on) then I start the car.
    When I have done all this, I start my 'timer' on my cell phone, set to go off in 9 minutes because the car will automatically shut off in 10. Sometimes time just gets away from you and before you know it you may be in the store 15/20 minutes and think you've only been there 5 or so…
    I hate that I have to go to this extreme but I also don't want my windows broken (someone may not know my car is running, it's pretty quiet), and I would HATE for them to break my windows to my car and sure don't want a ticket.
    I guess what I'm saying is that it's worth taking those precautions for me. What does suck is when we take long trips, we can't leave him in the vehicle so we can go into a restaurant to eat because you have to check those state's laws that you're traveling through regarding leaving your dog unattended…

  8. Ellen

    May 3, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Here's a thought……leave the animals at home.

  9. JW

    Apr 22, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I would only break the window if the animal was actually in distress, and I would be thankful for someone who broke my window to save my dog if it is in distress. I love my dog just like my kids. However, unless my dog is actually in distress, if you break my window, you are going to have more of a problem than you want. Mind your own business and stay out of mine, when doing so is not required.

  10. Linda

    Jul 14, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Three weeks ago I came across this problem in a supermarket Stop & Shop parking lot in Killingly ConnecticutI waited around for a few minutes went to get a coffee thru a drive thru on the other side of parking lot came back still no owner, waited again for about 5 minutes then called the state police they said I could leave but choose to stay around that took another 10 minutes, still no owner, the police finally came still no owner it was 84 degrees outside windows opened about 3 inches, large dog about 60-70 lbs. I finally left total time the dog was in car at that time was 45 minutes. Do not know what the end was as I had Dr. appointment to go to. As far as I’m concerned that person needs to have the same done to them .STUPID STUPID PEOPLE SHOULD NOT HAVE ANIMALS…..

    • Jake

      Jul 2, 2017 at 12:51 pm

      That's nice of you but the windows were open .so what's the problem .you people should mind your own buisness

      • Cinthia

        Jul 29, 2017 at 9:58 pm

        Jake, you go sit in a car with the window cracked three inches when it's 84° for an hour or so and see how you feel. Remember though, that you can only cool off by panting

        • Steph

          Jan 8, 2018 at 3:48 am

          Fell asleep in car during summer with windows not open. Woke up gasping for air when there was practically none left. I was luckly able to get the one door open in time. At least the dog had the car windows open lol

      • TW

        May 4, 2018 at 12:17 am

        JJake you’re an inconsiderate idiot…maybe someone should lock you in a hot car and forget about you.Jerk!

        • Jake

          Aug 11, 2018 at 8:14 pm

          That’s nice of you but the windows were open .so what’s the problem .you people should mind your own buisness

  11. Emily

    Jul 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    What pure ignorance I’ve seen on this thread… Dear Lord.
    If the air conditioner is on, your dog is fine. Period. End of story. The one lady’s story of the police dog dying even though the air was on, THAT WAS A CAR PROBLEM. A faulty air conditioner or malfunction was not anyone’s fault and simply a tragic ACCIDENT.
    I also say if my windows are all down halfway and I’m parked in the shade my dogs are perfectly fine.
    I have 3 dogs and their ages are 8, 9, and 3. I’ve had them all since birth. So I definitely know what I’m talking about here.
    Lastly, I would love to see someone stick there hand in the window of my vehicle – or break my window – in an attempt to ” save my dogs. Truly I would. Because they’ll soon find out how very far from death they really are and would be INCREDIBLY lucky to walk away with their hand if they reached in. If they broke the window, though? I can guarantee the possibility of them even walking away at all is slim. They would be torn limb from limb because my dogs are trained to protect me, my family, and our property which definitely includes the car lol.
    So before you decide to be an ignorant ass vigilante wanna-be, stop, and think about it. Panting does not mean a dog is dying. They also pant when excited, nervous, or just randomly! But even if it is due to being hot, if panting is all they’re doing? It’s not a crisis situation people. You would know, without a doubt, if a dog were suffering from heat exhaustion! Sadly I saw my pet bunny go through it when I was 7, when my mom forgot he was in his outside play pen for an hour. I’ll never forget what those symptoms looked like, it was scarring, and would be even now as an adult if I were to witness another animal go through what Thumper did. (original, I know. lol)
    All I’m saying is, people need to calm the fuck down. Quit treating a dog in a car during the summer as if the sky were falling. If the windows are down, walk away. If the air is on, walk away. If you think there’s something you just HAVE to say, wait for the owner by their car and talk to them with respect like a normal human being. They are not Satan because their idea of protecting and caring for their best friend doesn’t meet your own personal expectations.
    I’m all for getting involved, BUT, only in an actual emergency! Which like I said, even a child can tell the difference between emergency symptoms of heat exhaustion and a dog simply fucking panting. – drops mic – lol

    • JW

      Apr 22, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Exactly the way I feel. I had an occurrence where my wife and I went into Walmart. It was cloudy when we left the car, so we ran all four windows down a couple inches. When we came back and had just finished putting our groceries in the car, an animal control officer drove up and got out. I greeted him with a howdy, and he proceeded to tell me someone called 911 about me leaving my dog in the car and exposing it to possible distress. I opened the door and asked him if she looked like she was in distress. He advised me that had I not been at the car when he drove up, he would have broken my window, whether my dog was in distress or not. I thanked him for his advice and offered to shake his hand which he icily refused. Those are the kind of overbearing officers who cause violence against police. I noticed a young lady nearby watching and told my wife, there's the one who unnecessarily imposed upon our rights by calling 911 in a non-threatening situation. I also checked and the state does not have a law about leaving animals in your car without the car running.

    • Jake

      Jul 2, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      That's nice of you but the windows were open .so what's the problem .you people should mind your own buisness

  12. marjoree

    Jul 10, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    Where is my post? I posted and lost it? Now I’ve lost my momentum! When you can see the dog in distress, break the damn Windows!! And to you, dog owner, LEAVE IT HOME!!! You know better than that!!!

  13. Charles Hannigan

    Jul 6, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Maybe if you’re so concerned for the animal you could wait ten to twenty minutes, depending on the conditions, for the owner to return.
    I was just confronted by two strangers in a supermarket parking lot after leaving my dog alone for ten minutes. One lectured me that
    “the law says she can break my windows.” If you want to go vigilante, understand that the law pertains to “animals in distress.” You break my windows without cause you’ll be seeing police, a courtroom, and insurance claims. Last month I told a police detail officer that I was leaving my dog alone for fifteen minutes and was concerned that some citizen might break my windows to “rescue” her. He assured me that that citizen would be arrested.

    • Annie

      Jul 7, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      I understand some states its illegal to break a window, even though a citizen is saving an animals life, which in my opinion is more valuable then a stupid window. Your going to run into someone who does not give a shit and break your window. Why not just leave your dog at home if your going to do errands that you can’t take him with you. Why run the risk of getting distracted inside the store and having your poor dog wait for your sorry ass in the car. Just a thought.

      • Steph

        Jan 8, 2018 at 3:59 am

        My dog has seperation anxiety, believe or not. He doesnt eat or drink when i leave him home 🙁 i prefer to have him with me cause he ends up wrecking our house when i leave. He is improving but still cant fully trust him alone at the house

      • VK

        Jun 1, 2018 at 4:11 pm

        How can you tell if a dog left in the car is in (weather related) distress ? My dog starts freaking out and barking in the car as soon as he loses the sight of me…. no matter if it is 35 degrees or 80. Some people should mind their own business instead of calling cops on me. When he is left in the house, he doesnt eat or drink, and barks nonstop according to the neighbors. I even have to take him to work with me bc he would go nuts in the house…. so not sure what’s better here..

        • Linda Smith

          Jul 11, 2018 at 6:32 pm

          Might I suggest a solution? My schnauzer had seperation anxiety too and one neighbor in my senior apartment building hated dogs-so she would run and claim he was barking and howling every time I even walked to the drug store. If her granddaughter was visiting, she would have the girl shove things under my door to get him started, knock on the door, ect. It got to the point that I couldn’t leave for more than 10 minutes without taking him with me or faced eviction. Her loud, obnxoious grandkids could run wild, of course. I would end up boarding him just to go to the grocery store ($10.00) for one hour. Eventually, several tenants witnessed what was going on, told me and agreed to go to the manager with the situation. That stopped the threats, but not the child from repeating the same behavior and the other tenant from complaining and trying other tactics. I moved ASAP. Have a small house out in the country next to my landlord and we get along just fine.

      • Jake

        Aug 11, 2018 at 8:11 pm

        That’s nice of you but the windows were open .so what’s the problem .you people should mind your own buisness

  14. Mr. Myxpyx

    May 25, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    You’re all insane. I picked up a pizza today. I brought my dog along for the ride. I literally walked in, paid for it, took it out to my car. 1.5 minutes tops. A guy who had pulled up just as I was getting out of my car was frantically taking photos of my car license plate, threatening to call 911, and cussing me up and down. He saw me walk in to get my pizza. Funny thing is, it’s not illegal in my State, but it is illegal to swear in public. I would never leave a dog for more than a couple minutes, but what I do with my dog is my business, not yours.

  15. V Ward

    May 15, 2016 at 11:41 am

    I love my dogs and would love to take them with me everywhere I go BUT that’s not possible. So, instead I show my love by keeping them safe at home.
    If I come across a dog or child in a hot car, I would not hesitate to break a window! I am EMS & I know that is a horrible way to die.

  16. Kate

    Aug 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    I just encountered a situation today in which I saw 2 dogs left in a car in a Shop Rite parking lot. The window was slightly cracked open and the air conditioner was running. However, even though the air was on in the car, it was still way too hot today to leave a dog in the car at all!!!

    This occurred in Lincoln Park, New Jersey (Northern NJ). It was 92 degrees out. At this temperature, not even a Hyundai Elantra’s air conditioning unit can keep the car cool enough to be suitable for a dog (This was the type of car that the 2 dogs were left in).

    Dogs don’t sweat the same way that humans do. They can only pant and sweat out via their paws. This means that they cannot regulate their body temperature as well as humans can. Also, cars don’t circulate cool air the same way that regular air conditioners do in a home/ building or an RV, therefore they aren’t as effective, especially when the car isn’t moving. Try sitting in your parked car for 10 minutes with temperatures reaching 92 degrees and see if you still feel ok afterwards. This car wasn’t even in the shade, not like that’s going to help much.

    A group of people gathered around, including myself and we all felt that the dog shouldn’t be left in the car, even with the air on. I called the police but they were no help. The Lincoln Park police dispatcher actually took the driver’s side. She said that it is ok to leave dogs in the car and it isn’t illegal. In fact, she encourages people who come to AA meetings in the town of Lincoln Park, NJ to leave their dog in the confined space of a car with the air on for the entire meeting. This is what a Texas police officer did in 2003 with his German Shepard. That police dog died due to the air not being able to properly circulate in the car. This is just one example of how car air conditioners don’t save animal’s lives.

    Lincoln Park police in NJ should be ashamed for encouraging this form of animal abuse!!!

    You never know what could happen when you are not in the car with your beloved companion so just please don’t leave them in the car unattended at all!

    • Valerie

      Jun 27, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      So would you freak out if an adult is sitting in the car in that weather with the air conditioner on? If the air conditioner is on it may take time to cool the car down but once it had been running it can cool the car down. Stop trying to be some type of hero when it is not necessary. Here is an idea of you want to be a hero help the dogs that are being abused, starved, or used for fighting on a daily basis. They may need your help a little more. Thone dogs sounded like they had caring owners and you are getting worked up.

    • Jan

      Jul 30, 2017 at 11:07 pm

      I drive my car in the hot sun on days when it's 98 degrees, and my air is on, and I'm actually cold enough to turn it halfway to warmer after the car cools down from sitting. Air conditioning is there for a reason … I'd be more concerned that the car was on and the keys were in it, unless the park brake was on and it was on a level and the doors were all locked, maybe

  17. Leslie

    Jul 16, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    It is now legal to break into said vehicles in Tennessee. It just went into effect on July 1st!

  18. Beth VanSchaick

    Jul 15, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Isn’t this crazy? Most of these states that do, only have that kind of weather 3 or 4 months out of the year! Do the southern states just not care about their dogs?!?

  19. Tracy

    Jul 11, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Fines or not if I saw a dog or a child suffering in a hot car I would do what ever I could to get to them, if smashing their window so be it! Doing a selfless act to save a life should not be punished. It should be legalized that concerned citizens be allowed to smash the window if dog or child is in distress.

    • VK

      Jun 1, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      How can you tell if a dog is in (weather realted) distress in the car? My dog starts freaking out and barking in the car as soon as he loses the sight of me…. no matter if it is 35 degrees or 80. Some people should mind their own business instead of calling cops on me. When I leave him at home, he doesnt eat, he doesnt drink and he barks nonstop according to the neighbors… I even have to take him to work with me…. So not sure what’s better here…

      • Dusty

        Jun 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm

        Here’s the thing VK. You can’t always tell if a dog is in distress. But dogs can’t handle the heat as well as adult people. Their brains start to fry when it gets too hot. Cars get hot quickly. A person seeing your dogs alone in your parked car doesn’t know how long you have been gone or when you’re coming back. Your dogs can’t afford for that person to mind his own business. So if you care about your dogs leave them at home or be sure they are not left in your car for more than a few minutes. Don’t be so defensive. You know what’s best for your dogs. Or do you?

  20. Linda

    Jul 10, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    YES, it should be legal to break window for animal/child in a hot car people should know better and just don’t care. Wonder how they would like it if done to them?

  21. Shelly Seaman

    Jul 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I would smash the window in make sure the animal was ok wait for the owner and tell the person I smashed there window in and they can pay for it to be fixed because if they didn’t leaver their animal in there I wouldn’t have had to smash it in the first place and then take a pic of them and the animal and blaster it all over social media and make sure they never own an animal again. I have a dog and so does my boss we take them for car rides walks but if we won’t be in the car we leave them at home where they are safe. So love your animal and leave them at home where they are safe.

  22. Ina H. Chambers

    Jun 29, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Break that window in a second to save ANY living being. Then tell the owner “Pay for the window OR be advertised all over town as an animal/child abuser. Which is it? I’ll call the cops and the media here and now
    and let the chips fall where they may.

  23. patti

    Jun 27, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    I would break in for an animal or child no matter what!

  24. patti

    Jun 27, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Hell yes but I would not need permission animal or child. I WOULD BREAK IN!!!

  25. Nancy Gee

    Jun 25, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Really!! Can’t help an animal in distress, can easily die in the time it takes for their “Owner” to get back..are you KIDDING ME!! I called and the police did nothing!! Animal Control..would have taken hours to respond…I understand making it ok would cause to many “heros” being to quick to break windows but something HAS TO BE DONE!

  26. Kimberly Wilson

    Jun 22, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    I am against any form of animal abuse. Leaving a dog or cat in any vehicle should be against the law in every state. The fact that law enforcement is not even allowed to rescue an animal that is in imminent danger is absurd! I would not think twice about saving an animal in need. I don’t care what the law states. As it was stated, ANY life is precious.

  27. chris wileman

    Jun 18, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    If you are stupid enough to leave your child or pet in the car, I’m not stupid on how to break a window with a spark plug. The white part of the spark plug will break the window easier then a hammer.

  28. Stacy

    Jun 18, 2015 at 11:53 am

    I carry an emergency hammer designed to break glass in an emergency. Law or no law, life is precious.

  29. Kay Severtson

    Jun 18, 2015 at 9:34 am


    • Donna

      Jun 29, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      And I love you for that.

  30. jacqueline

    Jun 18, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I would break the window too and I would tell them I would pay for their window if I have to go to jail I will

  31. Anne

    Jun 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    So would I, and take my lumps for it.

  32. joann hanson

    Jun 17, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    i think there should be a law if you see a dog in a car, call animal control and the police once you have done that if the animal looks like it is in distress you should be able to break the window and wait for animal control and the police..

  33. Kirsten E Langer

    Jun 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    I would break a vehicle window if there was a child or animal in it.

    • Anne

      Jun 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      So would I, legal or illegal.

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