It's Hot This Summer, but That's No Excuse for Violating Animal Cruelty Laws

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on July 16, 2018 | Last updated on June 10, 2019

The heat of summer is upon us, and out pets. During these dog days of summer, you might be tempted to take Fido out with you to run your next errand, especially if he's giving you those lonely puppy dog eyes. But before you do, think twice. If you leave your pet in the car, you may endanger your pet's life, and risk violating animal cruelty laws.

Animal Cruelty Laws Differ by State

Every state has some form of animal cruelty laws, with penalties ranging from a small fine up to felony imprisonment. However, what amounts to animal cruelty differs by state. Everyone can agree that, in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, forcing Max the Dog to haul away all of the Christmas presents was illegal.

But how about the adorable Bichon Friee locked in the Porsche Cayenne next to you at Peet's Coffee, with the windows cracked? Is that illegal? And if so, what can you do about it?

In 2018, there are 28 states with laws on the books that specifically prohibit leaving dogs in cars where the animal's life is in imminent danger. Citizens are encouraged to call local law enforcement to assess the situation and potentially free the dog and cite the owner. Penalties can range from a simple citation to a $20,000 fine, and in one state, a felony charge and imprisonment if this is your second offense.

In 12 of those 28 states, good samaritans are allowed to take the laws into their own hands, and use any means necessary to save a distressed dog. That even includes smashing a window to free the dog. But before you pick up a rock and rescue that adorable Bichon Friese, each of those state laws has their own set of steps that must be taken prior to rescue, including:

  • Making every reasonable effort to locate the driver of the locked car
  • Ensuring the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is the only way to free the dog
  • Calling local law enforcement
  • Remaining on the scene until law enforcement arrives
  • Potentially paying part of the bill for the damage done to the car when rescuing the animal

So What Is a Pet Owner or Good Samaritan to Do?

On a typical summer day, a dog owner may think a quick trip out with a pet is safe, but that depends on the conditions. According to the Humane Society, when it's 85 degrees outside, even if the car's windows are cracked, the internal temperature of the car can reach 120 degrees within 30 minutes. And that would definitely be considered imminent danger and actionable in most states in America. If you are thinking of picking up that rock to free the dog, just be sure you know the most recent laws in your state and city, which frequently change without notice, or you could be facing a hefty fine.

It's true that every dog has its day, and in the case of a day out with its owner, use good judgment. Perhaps summer days with your pet are best left to long drives and evening strolls. If you've found yourself in hot water in this sort of issue, whether as the dog owner or good samaritan, call a local criminal defense lawyer, who can best assess your situation.

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