The summer season is officially here, and that means that it’s time to focus even more on safety for our pets as it relates to the warmer weather. Each year, people leave their pets behind in their cars during the hotter summer months, either accidentally or intentionally. Unfortunately, for the pets involved, this mistake is often fatal.
The Risks of Leaving Your Pet Alone in A Vehicle
Before we get into the options that are legally available to help a pet that is left in a hot car, let’s quickly look at the risks associated with leaving your pet in the vehicle. During the hot summer temperatures, the temperatures within a vehicle rise quickly, reaching an average of 41 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding air temperature within an hour.
These situations aren’t always malicious. Some pet owners are simply misinformed, believing that cracking the window of their vehicle will offer enough airflow to keep the temperatures down. However, experts warn that cracking the window doesn’t make a noticeable difference.
This is the reason why it is so important to not only act if we do see a pet left inside of a vehicle but also to educate other pet owners. By sharing this valuable information with others, you may be able to prevent a serious accident from occurring.
Legal Ways to Help Pets in Hot Cars
To understand your rights and the best course of action to assist a pet in need, you must look at the laws in each individual state. While some states do allow for a concerned citizen to take action to rescue a distressed animal, this isn’t always the case.
According to AnimalLaw.info, “Approximately 31 states have laws that deal with animals left in unattended vehicles. Most of these laws provide that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle. Further, the laws add that in order for a person to violate the law, the conditions have to endanger the animal’s life. Under some state laws, law enforcement or other individuals are allowed to rescue animals left under extreme conditions.”
These states can be divided into two different groups, those that limit their ‘rescue’ laws to only protect law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, animal control or authorized humane officers, and those that have passed laws that will protect any concerned citizen when acting to rescue a distressed animal. West Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that have laws in place to criminalize the act of leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle under dangerous conditions, but have no ‘rescue’ laws in place to provide immunity for those seeking to save these pets.
There are a total of 15 states that have laws protecting a concerned citizen to some extent. This includes AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, IN, KS, LA, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI. However, it should be noted that these laws are not all equal. All these states have laws that provide for some protection, but they may not provide complete immunity. For example, in Indiana, the person who enters the vehicle must pay for half of the damages that result from their rescue efforts.
In addition to finding out whether there is a law in place to protect you in your home state (or when you are traveling), you will also need to find out what steps are required before you can make a forced entry. In most states with a ‘rescue’ law, you must first call local enforcement or 911 to report the situation. It is also likely required that you must try to open the vehicle, confirming that it is locked, and a forcible entry is required to save the animal in distress.
What to Do If You Are Not Legally Allowed to Break a Car Window
If you live in a state where your efforts to rescue an animal in distress are not covered by the law, you are not entirely powerless to make a difference. The first thing that you should do is to call law enforcement, the fire department, or a humane officer to come to the animal’s aid.
You can also approach local businesses with the make, model, and license plate number of the car, asking if they can make an announcement to find the car’s owner and address the situation quickly.
Proactive Things Pet Parents Can Do
Help to Spread the Word
As we discussed above, this situation is often the result of misinformation. The best way to combat that misinformation is to help share the correct information with pet owners in your community and across the country. This can be done by sharing information online via social media, having open conversations about the risks with other pet owners, or printing and handing out this pamphlet from the Humane Society of the United States.
Be Familiar with Your Local Laws
Make sure that you are familiar not only with your state laws, but also any local by-laws that may have an impact on your ability to assists a pet in need. Most people will find that they can respond with more confidence if they are familiar with what they are and are not permitted to do, alleviating their concerns about getting into trouble for their actions.
If you live in an area of the country where there aren’t ‘rescue’ laws in place, or where the laws on the books fall short of protecting those in need, consider standing up and voicing your concerns. This can be done by speaking out at town hall meetings or contacting your local representatives to advocate for stronger legislation.
Keep the Important Numbers on Hand
If you do come across an animal in distress, you want to be able to call for help as quickly as possible. Every moment matters! To make this easier, take the time to make a list of the essential telephone numbers for situations like this including the police non-emergency number, your local emergency veterinary clinics (as well as their addresses), and the local animal control agency’s number. This can be kept in your purse or wallet on a small piece of paper, or even saved in your phone for easy access.
Connect with Local Businesses
Reach out to your local business owners including store managers, restaurant owners and the management team for your local mall and suggest that they post signs in their doors reminding owners not to leave their pets in the vehicle while shopping or dining. Not only will this help to spread the word, but it may reach someone at the exact moment that an accident would have happened, encouraging them to rethink their decision.
Valuable Resources for First Responders
If you are a first responder yourself, consider connecting with your local veterinarian for an information session for you and your coworkers. This is an excellent opportunity to make sure that everyone is properly informed on the first aid measures needed to save an animal in distress. Those first moments after rescuing a pet from a hot vehicle are important. There is also a printable information sheet available from the Humane Society of the United States with the basic information to start the conversation.
Additionally, the Animal Legal Defense Fund offers professional training programs for police and animal control offers that are specifically designed to focus on animal cruelty cases and the law as it pertains to these situations.
Have you ever been involved in helping a pet left behind in a hot (or cold) car? Let us know in the comments below!