Only 12 States Protect People from Breaking into Cars to Save Animals

Posted by Christy Caplan
Dogs In Hot Car

It's really surprising that only 12 states have enacted laws allowing "any person" to rescue a distressed animal. Indiana is the first and only state to require the person who forcibly enters a vehicle to rescue an animal to pay half the damages. This headline out of Michigan is a great reminder that there are only certain states where you can rescue a dog from a hot car where there is limited civil or criminal liability of the person for damages resulting from the forcible entry of the vehicle.

It's also basically shocking to think people are still leaving their animals (and children) in hot cars every summer. The 12 states with laws in place are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. I'm embarrassed to say that the state of Washington, where I live, isn't on this list!  

If you don't interfere when a dog is in a hot car for a shorter period of time than you'd expect, the dog or dogs could easily die from heatstroke.

Many of these states without laws in place, like Michigan, have a need for statewide legislation to protect dogs in hot cars. This means community support! You always see a spike of vehicle pet deaths in the summer. 

The Oakland Press tells us,

"Michigan is one of 39 states still without a Good Samaritan law allowing people to shatter windows to rescue animals trapped in hot cars

Without protection against criminal liability, people in Michigan can do nothing more than gather evidence, call 911, and wait for police to arrive on the scene."

The Animal Law site explains,

"12 states have enacted laws that allow any person to rescue a distressed animal (AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, KS, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI). These laws function to limit the civil or criminal liability of the person for damages resulting from the forcible entry of the vehicle. West Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that criminalize the act of leaving a pet unattended under dangerous conditions without providing a rescue and immunity provision for anyone."

Some people will just use a hammer and break into a car to save some pups they see are in trouble. Read this story. 

Have you walked by a parked car on a hot day and wanted to call animal control or better yet break the window? This has happened to me but I've been worried about the consequences.

Dogs don't sweat out excess body heat. While your dog does have a few sweat glands located in his paws, these do little to help regulate his body temperature. Instead, he does this through rapid, open-mouthed breathing, called panting.

Signs of distress come on quickly!

  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased body temperature
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
  • Rapid heart rate

Your animal's life is in imminent danger when you start to see these above signs. If you live in one of these 12 states and you see this animal cruelty case unraveling before your eyes, you should break the window and call law enforcement.

How can you help a dog in a hot car?

The RSPCA provides tips on what you can do.

  • Call 911. If the dog is in distress or showing any signs of heatstroke and you're unable to find the owner, you should call 911. The police can assist with getting entry to the vehicle. 
  • Should you break the window? Make sure you tell the police what you intend to do and why. Take pictures or videos of the dog and the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident.
  • If the dog is not showing signs of heatstroke, try and track down the owner of the vehicle. Make a note of the car's registration and alert staff if you are at a shop or venue as they can make an announcement to their customers - if possible, make sure someone can stay with the car to monitor the dog's wellbeing. 

What would you do if this happened when you were walking by a car in a parking lot? Please leave us a comment below! 

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Only 12 States Protect People from Breaking into Cars to Save Animals