When it's hot outside, the last thing you want to see is a dog or a cat locked in a hot car. You know that dogs and cats shouldn't be in hot cars, but how do you safely intervene without getting in trouble yourself? Is there anything you can do? We'll go over ten ways to help animals trapped in hot cars.
- Call 911
If you're out and about on a hot day, and you see an animal in distress inside a locked vehicle, know that calling the police to help is the right thing to do. In 45 states, it's actually the law.
If a pet is in danger, there's no time to waste—call 911 immediately. The dispatcher will ask for details about where you are and what you see. If the animal seems overheated or distressed, officers will be sent to check up on them. Because of changes in state laws, by law officers have the authority to free animals from cars if they're in distress—without any recourse against the owner.
In many states, civilians can also assist animals in hot cars by breaking into them if they feel it's absolutely necessary to save the life of that animal. But that's not the ideal solution; it could potentially leave someone liable for damages to the car. It's better to call 911 first so that an officer can handle it and take full responsibility if necessary.
The more people who are aware of this solution, the more pets we can save who might otherwise be trapped in unsafe conditions. Please share this with your friends!
- Document the situation
It looks like we're doing something wrong by standing back and taking a picture instead of breaking the window, but it's not so simple. Each case is different, and there are certain factors that need to be taken into account before we can legally take action. We're not saying you should just break the window without weighing your options—just that it could be considered legal to do so in certain circumstances.
The first thing we need to determine is that the pet is indeed at risk of suffering irreparable harm or death due to heatstroke. If you see an animal showing signs of distress (heavy panting, lethargy, difficulty breathing, vomiting) and are concerned for its safety, do not hesitate to call 911 or the local police department immediately. They will send someone out to evaluate the situation and take appropriate action if necessary.
If the pet appears OK but you still suspect it might not be safe for long periods of time inside this vehicle—say, there's no air conditioning running—you can make sure you have documentation as concrete evidence in case something happens later on down the line when police investigate what happened at this scene after being called
- Don't leave until help comes
If you see a dog in a hot car, don't leave until help comes. Here's how it's legal:
We've taken this to heart over the past few years. While there are a lot of questions that come up about the legality of breaking into cars to save pets, we were happy to see that the ASPCA has some great advice for making sure you stay on the right side of the law when it comes to saving animals from hot cars.
Until help arrives, don't leave the scene unless your safety is at risk! Once you make that call, stay with the animal and vehicle so that authorities can easily find them. If someone arrives before authorities do, tell them not to leave without making sure that help is on the way. The more people who stay with the vehicle, the better!
Once help arrives, they'll let you go.
- Call Animal Control
Summer is in full swing, which means we're in the season of outdoor concerts and picnics, road trips and backyard barbecues—and, unfortunately, pets left in dangerously hot cars. There are plenty of tales of horrified bystanders smashing windows to save an animal's life, but that kind of action can get you in legal trouble. Luckily, there's a better way to help out: simply call animal control.
By law, only police officers and animal control officers have the right to break into a car to rescue an animal who might be in danger. Yes, it's up to them to do the actual saving—but you can still play a huge role by making the call. If you see a pet left in a car on a hot day (or any other situation where you're worried about their safety), first try to find the owner or ask someone nearby if they know them. If that doesn't work, your next step is to call 911 or your local police department and explain the situation. From there, they'll send an officer out to assess the situation and take the appropriate actions. If they determine the animal is truly in danger, they'll be able to legally break into the vehicle without worrying about repercussions from the owner or being charged with destruction.
- Write Down the Car's Information
The first step is always to contact law enforcement or animal control officers. If they aren't available, then gather information about the car and call nearby businesses—including any where the owner might be taking their pet (e.g., a groomer or vet). If no one knows who owns the car, write down its license plate number and make/model, and then make some signs about what's going on—if not for your own sake. You may need this information later on if you're able to get into the car yourself or if you have to wait for someone else to come help.
- Look for Signs of Overheating
Check for signs of overheating that include panting, excessive drooling and loss of consciousness (in severe cases). If there is any doubt about what state the animal is in, assume it needs immediate help and act quickly!
- Be Prepared to Break Windows
If you see a pet in a hot car, you can legally break the window to free it—but only under specific circumstances. In most states, you must be able to prove that you made an attempt to find the owner, that the situation was an emergency and that damage was necessary to save the animal. You must also be able to prove that you were acting as a good Samaritan and weren't vandalizing the car out of spite.
Most states have laws on their books pertaining to pets left in cars on hot days. While these laws usually allow bystanders to take action if the conditions are extreme enough, they also typically include requirements for how those bystanders must behave in order for those actions to be considered legal. For example, in Michigan, individuals who wish to break a vehicle window to rescue a pet from potentially deadly heat must first call 911 or their local police department before taking any action. Then, they must notify a manager or other official at the store where the car is parked and wait for law enforcement officials to arrive before taking any action. Only if the pet's life is clearly in danger should onlookers break into the vehicle themselves.
It's important not only for bystanders' safety but also for the safety of animals everywhere that these laws are followed.
While we've given some legal tips, we should note once again that they only apply in certain situations. If you're concerned about an animal being left in a hot car, then be sure to call the local police or animal control immediately. They will likely have the animal removed and provide assistance to the owner, who could potentially face a hefty fine and other legal penalties. Don't take matters into your own hands unless it's an emergency, of course, and let law enforcement handle the situation as soon as possible.
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