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Should You Break a Dog out of a Hot Car?

It's happened to many of us: You are out on a hot summer's day and you see a dog alone, locked in a car. The dog might be barking in distress, panting heavily or worse yet, unresponsive. What do you do? 10 years ago, your options would have been pretty limited. You could try to find the owner, but other than that, you had little legal recourse. These days, in many states, you have the law on your side.

Hot Car Laws Protect Pets

dogs in parked cars

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a total of 22 states currently have "hot car" laws on the books: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

These "hot car" laws make it a crime to leave a dog locked in a car in the heat of the day. 5 of those states--Florida, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin--also protect Good Samaritans from prosecution if they rescue the dog by breaking a car window. California has a Good Samaritan law pending.

In the states with "hot car" laws that don't also have a Good Samaritan law, it's only legal for a dog to be rescued by law enforcement or animal control officers. In some of those states, penalties are reduced for Good Samaritans who break a car window to rescue a dog because a law enforcement official wasn't available. In these states, penalties are limited to misdemeanors or civil fines.

What Should You Do about a Dog in a Hot Car?

what to do with dogs in cars

No matter where you are when you see a dog suffering in a hot car, it's a good idea to follow these guidelines before you take drastic measures and break a car window.

  • Record the car's make, model, color, and license plate number.
  • Go to businesses or security guards in the area where the car is parked and ask them to make an announcement to find the car's owner.
  • Call the local police station or animal control agency.
  • As a last resort, call 9-1-1.

How You Can Be Prepared

dogs in cars laws

In the meantime, study the laws in the state where you live so you'll know your legal recourse if you see a dog locked in a hot car. You may find that only dogs and cats are protected in your state, while other animals are not. You may also learn details about the potential penalties you will face if you live in a state without a "hot car" law but decide to break a car window anyway. For some dog lovers, it's worth the penalty to know they saved a dog's life.

If you live in a state without a law designed to protect dogs locked in hot cars, consider getting involved to help make changes. Contact your local state representative and ask him or her to draft a "hot car" law. Also, ask businesses in your area to post signs outside reminding customers not to leave their dogs in the car while they are shopping. When you're out on a hot day, keep an eye out for dogs that have been left alone in a hot car. Your vigilance can help save a life.

You can also share this ASPCA infographic with other pet lovers to help remind people not to leave pets in cars on hot days.

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