If You See A Dog In A Hot Car, Are You Breaking The Law By Breaking A Window? Here’s Your Answer!

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Animals across the country will breathe a little easier this summer now that more states are allowing people to break them out of hot locked cars without fear of prosecution.

Twenty-six states have passed “hot car” legislation as of 2017, the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center maintains.

These laws essentially allow someone to smash a car window if they are seriously concerned that the pet or child locked inside is in danger. Most require the rescuer to call 9-1-1 and alert them of the forced entry.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, all hot car laws are aimed at the safety of animals, but some are restricted to certain species.

In New York, any companion animal can be rescued under the state provision, while it only applies to cats and dogs in Maryland, Minnesota, and Nevada.

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In 14 states, only police, animal control officers, and other officials may break a vehicle’s window. In New Jersey and West Virginia, no one may break into a car to rescue a hot animal, although it’s still a crime to endanger an animal in that way. Only in the following states are ordinary citizens allowed to break into a vehicle to save an animal under “good samaritan” laws:

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee
  • Wisconsin
  • Colorado
  • California
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
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Allowing those who see an animal in a dangerous situation the right to free it without heavy legal ramifications could save the lives of many pets, but hot car deaths can also be deterred by educating owners on the situation a stifling, unventilated car presents to an animal.

Smart phones are also bringing justice, if not shame, to those who leave animals in hot cars. Among the recent reports of animals being rescued this season, many started out as an image or video posted to social media with a call for help. And police are using social media to use these incidents in educating the public, as well.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee. Find more about Matthew on his personal website.