The dangers of leaving a living being in a hot car – be it an animal or a person – cannot be overstated, yet stories of babies and animals who perish after being left in a hot car flood news reports.
Sometimes it is an honest mistake; where a person doesn’t realize that they have their pet in the car, but most of the time it is because no one thinks it could happen to them. After all the intention was to be gone for just a few minutes, unfortunately sometimes that is all it takes for tragedy to strike.
The temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in just 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, it can rise almost 30º F…and the longer you wait, the higher it goes. At 60 minutes, the temperature in your vehicle can be more than 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Even on a 70-degree day, that’s 110 degrees inside your vehicle!
Your vehicle can quickly reach a temperature that puts your pet at risk of serious illness and even death, even on a day that doesn’t seem hot to you. And cracking the windows makes no difference.
A recently conducted study showed that the interior temperature of vehicles parked in outside temperatures ranging from 72 to 96º F rose steadily as time increased. Another study, performed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, found that temperatures in a dark sedan as well as a light gray minivan parked on a hot, but partly cloudy day, exceeded 125 degrees F within 20 minutes.
There are 26 states with laws that either prohibit leaving an animal in confined vehicles or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle including PA, DE and NJ. If you plan travel, or just so you can learn the specifics of your state, visit https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-laws-protect-animals-left-parked-vehicles.
Most laws provide that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle. For a person to violate the law, the conditions in the vehicle have to endanger the animal’s life. Some of the statutes specifically mention extreme hot or cold temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation, or failing to provide proper food or drink meet this definition. Other laws simply state that the conditions pose an imminent threat to the animal’s health or safety.
States with such laws typically allow rescue of the animal from the vehicle. This may involve forcibly entering the vehicle to remove the trapped animal. The majority of states limit their “rescue” laws to law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers. Recently, about eight states have enacted laws that allow 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. 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.
With these new rescue laws, most require would-be rescuers to follow a number of steps. For instance, these laws may require that people first ensure the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is the only means to retrieve the animal. The person may be required to first call 911 or local enforcement before entering the vehicle. The law may require that a note is left indicating the safe location of the animal and that the person remain on scene until law enforcement or other first responders arrive.
Penalties for leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle under dangerous conditions vary from state to state. A few states make it an immediate fine, like other civil infractions. The rest of the states assign a misdemeanor penalty, with fines ranging from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Some list possible jail time or imprisonment. New Hampshire makes a second conviction a felony offense.
While not all states have laws that address animals in parked vehicles, numerous local ordinances prohibit this, and more may be enacted. Even without a state or local law, this action could still constitute cruelty under some circumstances. Don’t risk your pet’s life or ruining your vacation.