Helping Dogs Left in Hot Cars

Photo Credit: Genewolf, Flicker CC, Dogs in CarWith the approach of summer, as temperatures increase so too do my thoughts about what I will do when I happen upon a dog left in a car on a hot day. Inevitably, I encounter this situation at least once a year, usually in a grocery store or shopping center parking lot.

After peering through the window to see what shape the dog is in, I will have a decision to make. Will I try to find the owner, hang out by the car for a short while hoping the owner shows up (and if they do show up, turn the situation into a teaching opportunity), call 911, or bust through one of the car windows myself? And, if I opt to break and enter, what might the legal ramifications be? Would I be considered a Good Samaritan or would I be charged with a misdemeanor, or even a felony?

In researching this matter I was pleased to come across an enlightening article on this topic. It was written by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). Given that I live in North Carolina, I now know that contacting a law enforcement or humane officer right away is the best bet from a legal point of view. Truth be told, if the dog were in trouble, I suspect I would break into and enter the car myself, and deal with the legal implications later. Wouldn’t you?

Here is the ALDF article. Have a look and see if your state is mentioned.


By, Animal Legal Defense Fund

Even on a day when it’s 70 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car with all the windows closed can hit 90 degrees in just 10 minutes. On a hot day, the temperature inside a closed car can shoot as high as 116 degrees in the same amount of time.

What can you do, within your legal rights, if you see an animal in distress in a locked car? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, has some tips.

If you see an animal in distress, call 911.

Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened. Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life.

Know your state laws.

More and more states are adopting “hot car” laws that prohibit leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle, with six enacted in just the last two years and two more pending. Although 20 states have some form of “hot car” laws, the laws differ drastically from place to place:

  • Only two states—Wisconsin and Tennessee—have “good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save a pet.
  • In 16 states, only public officials such as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington).
  • In New Jersey and West Virginia, no one has the authority to break into a vehicle to save an animal, not even law enforcement.
  • Legislation is pending in Florida and New York to give any concerned bystander the legal right to help an animal in distress. Pending legislation in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to confine a dog or cat in a vehicle in conditions that would jeopardize its health but only a police, public safety, or humane officer would have the legal right to rescue the animal.

Penalties for hot car deaths of companion animals are still limited. Most states limit penalties to misdemeanors or civil fines and infractions, even for repeat offenders. Maine and South Dakota’s laws don’t impose a penalty at all.

Let people know it’s not okay to leave their pet unattended in a car.

When an animal dies in a hot car, most of their humans say they left them “just for a minute.” If you see someone leave their pet in a parked car, tell them that even if it’s a pleasant day outside, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket fast. Cracking a window doesn’t eliminate the risk of heatstroke or death.

Get the message out with an ALDF sunshade.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has created sunshades that remind pet owners of the risks of leaving animals unattended in a car. The sunshades feature the message, “Warning: Don’t leave dogs in hot cars,” in lettering large enough to be readable from across a parking lot. They also urge people to call 911 if they find animals locked in a car and in distress. The sunshades are available at and all proceeds benefit ALDF.

For more information on keeping dogs safe this summer visit

About ALDF

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, ALDF files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit

Are you clear what you will do when you come across a dog locked in a car on a hot day this summer?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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4 Comments on “Helping Dogs Left in Hot Cars

  1. Dogs left in cars during hot weather send me through the roof. Even with the windows cracked that car is hot. Last summer while stopping to shop at a Kroger grocery store, I saw a long haired dog panting in a car with all windows up. My hackles went up as the dog appeared to be in distress. I went into Kroger and asked them to announce that there was a dog in trouble, gave the license plate and make of car. I was told that in Ohio (which is where I live) that Kroger has a policy of not interfering with a person’s property. I was horrified, returned to car just as the owner was unlocking the car door. I tried to advise him on the dog in the hot car but he just blew me off. It’s an ongoing war.

  2. First I very quickly go into the store with the car make and license plate number and let customer service know that the owner of the car needs to rush to their desk, as it’s an EMERGENCY. I then go back outside and wait by the animal, at which point the person either thanks me or curses me (it doesn’t matter to me whichever method they prefer, as I am not a happy camper regarding this situation). I have been told off, told to mind my business, yadda yadda yadda. This is not something I would lose sleep over. The animal matters, not the idiot who left them there.
    I also have pretyped “dangers of leaving an animal in car” info that I always leave in my purse and I then place that across their windshield.
    If the animal is in dire straights I will help the animal.

  3. As always, thank you Dr Nancy for educating us. It is really helpful to know I should call 911 rather than breaking into the car as I always wondered how I would break in anyway.

  4. I believe this penal code is still in effect in California;

    1. Penal Code 597.7 PC Leaving a Pet in an Unattended Car

    Penal Code 597.7 PC California’s law against leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle prohibits leaving an animal (or animals) in an unattended car doing endanger the health or well-being of the animal. Under this law, conditions such as
    •the weather (is the temperature too hot or too cold?),
    •a lack of adequate ventilation (are the windows open or at least cracked?),
    •a lack of food or water (will the animal become malnourished or dehydrated?), and
    •any other circumstance that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability or death to the animal
    In our county the Animal Control officers take the temperature in three areas of the car, and depending on the stress level of the animal will break in to save the animal

    Legislation being debated now may allow citizens to break into a car to save a pet.

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