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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!)
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?
Currently, 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.