Why It’s Illegal to Leave Your Pet in a Hot Car In Many States · The Wildest

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It’s Illegal to Leave Your Pet in a Hot Car In These States

As the temps rise, it becomes extremely risky for your pet’s health.

by Sio Hornbuckle
June 17, 2024
Pitbull sitting in a car alone on a hot, summer day.
Erik Rosenberg / Stocksy

Last week, a dog died after being left in a hot car in Virginia Beach. It’s a preventable tragedy that’s more common than you might expect; this year, eight animals have already died after being left unattended in a vehicle, reports PETA. In 2023, 163 animals died from heat-related deaths, and 855 were rescued from dangerous heat. 

With summer in full swing and a major heatwave on its way to the Midwest and East Coast, it’s important for pet parents to be aware of the risks of a hot car. Even a short amount of time left outside in the heat can be dangerous for pets. In 72 degree Fahrenheit weather, it takes an hour for the inside of a car to heat up to 116 degrees. At 80 degree heat, it only takes 10 minutes for a car to reach 99 degrees. Pet parents may think they’re safe to take a quick errand run with their pet left behind, but the consequences can be deadly.

There can be legal consequences, too. Because of its high risk to an animal’s health, it’s illegal in many states to leave a pet in a hot car; some laws even carry potential prison sentences.

States where it’s illegal to leave your pet in a hot car

Leaving a dog in a car is considered illegal when the conditions in the car pose an imminent threat to the animal’s life. Depending on the state’s specifications, this can be because of extreme heat, extreme cold, a lack of food and drink in the vehicle, or poor ventilation.

In Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and West Virginia, the law specifically considers leaving a pet unattended in a car under dangerous conditions to be a misdemeanor. It is possible to be charged with a misdemeanor in other states on a case-by-case basis under their local animal cruelty laws, even if they don’t have specific statewide laws against leaving animals in vehicles. 

Some states impose hefty fines, and some, like California, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have possible prison sentences. In New Hampshire, a second conviction is a felony offense. 

States where it’s legal to forcibly enter a car to help an animal

In 14 states, any person — not just members of law enforcement — can legally break into a car to save a trapped animal; they are provided civil immunity, meaning they can’t be sued for damages to the vehicle. These states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In Indiana, someone who forcibly enters a vehicle must pay half the damages. 

In West Virginia and New Jersey, it’s illegal to leave a pet unattended in a car under dangerous conditions, but there is no immunity for someone who rescues a pet from a car. 

Certain steps are required before it is legal to break into a car to rescue a pet. For example, in some states, you have to call 911 first, check that the car is locked, or stay until law enforcement arrives.

What to do if you find a pet in a hot car

If you find a pet in need, The Humane Society of the United States recommends first jotting down the make, model, and license plate number of the car where a pet is trapped. Then, you can go to a nearby business to notify a manager; they can make an announcement to the store, which may enable the car’s owner to help the animal. If the car’s owner can’t be found, you can call animal control or local law enforcement — or, if you’re in one of the 14 states where you are given civil immunity, you can choose to take actions to free the animal yourself.

Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.

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