Is It Legal to Break a Car Window to Save a Dog?

Broken Glass


Even on a perfectly lovely 72°F day, it only takes 20 minutes for the internal temperature of a car to rise above 100°F! And on a sweltering 100oF+ day, it’s pretty much immediately too hot for a dog to be left in the car. 

Hopefully, you already realize the very real heat stroke danger of leaving a dog alone in a car and know not to believe some of the dangerous myths about leaving dogs in hot cars. 

Even if you never leave your dog alone in the car, other people sadly do, and there might come a time when you stumble on another dog in this dangerous situation. This can be an intensely infuriating, but also confusing or potentially awkward situation for any animal lover. And it’s understandable that you, and those around you, may have questions about how to act.

  • How do you know if there’s enough danger to the dog to require action?
  • How hot is too hot?
  • What can and should you do to help a dog in a hot car?
  • Not to mention, what can you legally do to rescue that dog, and is it legal to break the car window?

We provide answers and a guide to the first two questions on our Prevent Heat Stroke campaign page. Additionally, the steps you can take to help a dog in a hot car are outlined on our #HotHappensFast page (this page is a truly important resource for all dog lovers — please check it out and share to spread the word).

Click the image for more detailed steps to take and to prepare yourself if you find a dog in a hot car.

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Is it Legal to Remove a Dog From a Hot Car?

Now for the more difficult questions, because it’s tough to provide a 100% conclusive, clear-cut answer when it comes to the issue of legality. It’s not that I don’t want to — believe me, I do! — but the law is often ambiguous and subject to interpretation. Furthermore, the rules about rescuing dogs from hot cars vary from state to state (even city to city, in some instances). And unfortunately, unlike some other good Samaritan rescue operations, getting someone else’s dog out of a dangerously hot car is one of the few instances when your heroics could actually make you vulnerable to legal troubles (or even a physical altercation). 

Now, that being said, there is some good news. A number of state legislatures have passed laws (or are in the process of doing so) that protect good Samaritans who, in good faith, and in an appropriate manner, enter a hot car to rescue a dog from harm, or even death. And more and more states are following suit. 

How State Rules Differ About Rescuing Dogs From Hot CarsDog Car Sun

In states like Arizona and California, ordinary citizens are granted legal immunity if they damage someone’s vehicle to rescue “an animal.” While other states, like Illinois, don’t have “good Samaritan” laws that protect ordinary citizens who rescue animals that are trapped in hot cars, they do have provisions that protect law enforcement and other official first responders (like animal control officers) from civil liability. And in Indiana, a good Samaritan is partially protected, but still legally required to pay half the cost for property damage. 

Does this mean that you could or should run around, willy-nilly, smashing car windows with rocks if you live in a state that grants you legal immunity? Of course not. But it does mean that, in these states, you could do so without fear of prosecution in certain situations, and after taking certain precautions and following certain steps. 

Am I Liable for Rescuing a Dog From a Hot Car in My State?

The table below outlines the basic laws for each state. It is up-to-date as of June 15, 2017 and is based on information compiled by the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Overview of State Laws: Leaving Unattended Animals in Vehicles, and Michigan State University College of Law’s State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles pages (which are great resources!).

Of course, laws change, so use this information as a general guide and double check with the legal resources linked above. To best educate yourself, look up your state’s law specifically — they’re often in the Motor Vehicle Code. Better still, if your state doesn’t have such a law on its books, reach out directly to your state representatives and ask them to introduce a good Samaritan bill to help protect animals and those who would take steps to look out for their safety.

*Disclaimer: The following information is a meant to provide an overview of state laws. Check the law in your state to determine the specific level of liability, even if a good Samaritan law is on the books.

State

Law against leaving animal in hot car?

Good Samaritan law?

Law protecting public officials from civil liability?

Alabama

Pending legislation

Pending Legislation

 

Alaska

     

Arizona

Yes

Yes

Yes

Arkansas

     

California

Yes

Yes

Yes

Colorado

 

Yes

 

Delaware

Yes

Yes

Yes

Florida

Yes

Yes

 

Georgia

     

Hawaii

     

Idaho

     

Illinois

Yes

 

Yes

Indiana

Yes

Yes

Yes

Iowa

     

Kansas

     

Kentucky

     

Louisiana

     

Maine

Yes (no penalty)

 

Yes

Maryland

Yes

 

Yes

Massachusetts

Yes

Yes

Yes

Michigan

     

Minnesota

Yes

 

Yes

Mississippi

     

Missouri

     

Montana

     

Nebraska

     

Nevada

Yes

 

Yes

New Hampshire

Yes

 

Yes

New Jersey

Yes

   

New Mexico

     

New York

Yes

 

Yes

North Carolina

Yes

 

Yes

North Dakota

Yes (no penalty)

 

Yes

Ohio

Nothing specific to vehicles

Yes

 

Oklahoma

     

Oregon

Yes

Pending legislation

Yes

Pennsylvania

     

Rhode Island

Yes

 

Yes

South Carolina

     

South Dakota

Yes (no penalty)

 

Yes

Tennessee

Yes

Yes

 

Texas

     

Utah

     

Vermont

Yes

 

Yes

Virginia

Yes

 

Yes

Washington

Yes

 

Yes

West Virginia

Yes

   

Wisconsin

Yes

Yes

 

Wyoming

      

What Steps Should I Take to Help a Dog in a Hot Car?

As you can see, how (and if) you choose to act will likely be based on several factors, ranging from the legal ramifications, severity of the situation, your interest or willingness to get involved, and your understanding of the steps  to take based on your assessment of the situation.

At the end of the day, the decision is up to you. But even if you don’t want, or know how to personally get involved, something as simple as alerting another passerby or nearby shop could be an important first step to saving a dog’s life. In fact, bringing other people into a rescue operation usually results in a better outcome and faster resolution.

First, learn the steps you can take to help a dog in a hot car, as well as when to take each step based on the dog’s level of distress and danger.

And one last thing: If you’d like to help spread awareness and important facts about the danger of leaving dogs in cars on hot (and even warm) days, please download, print, and share the #HotHappensFast awareness poster. It’s a free and easy way to help get the word out about this avoidable danger.

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Do you have any questions we haven’t answered? Do you have any worries about rescuing a dog from a hot car? Have you ever had to take action? Or do you have anything to add? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! 

Topics: Dog Safety, Summer Pet Safety Tips, Heat Exhaustion, Summer, Heat Stress, Heat Stroke, Dog, Signs of Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion in Dogs, Heat Stroke Risk Factors

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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