Summer temperatures continue to rise and so do the number of stories garnering news headlines after dogs are left in hot vehicles on days with scorching temperatures.
Without a doubt, if you saw a child suffering in a hot vehicle, you would act swiftly, and maybe even before there is an opportunity to call for law enforcement. But animals cause some people to pause. Is it illegal? Will I get a ticket or go to jail? Will I be responsible if I damage the car attempting to get in?
Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. That isn’t much time.
So what do you do?
Twenty-six states have laws in place that protect dogs in hot cars. The laws vary from strictly punishing a person for leaving an animal in a vehicle alone, like in Arizona and California, to freeing a person of civil liability if they break a window of a dog in distress in Maine. Georgia is not a state that specifically prohibits leaving dogs in cars or allows bystanders to aid without fear of punishment. In Georgia, a person who leaves a dog in a hot vehicle is often charged with animal cruelty, but there are no protections in place if you smash a window in an attempt to save an animal. You can see the laws in place in other states here.
So, again, what do you do?
First and foremost, call 911 immediately even if you’re simultaneously looking for the owner. Take down information of the car’s make, model, and license plate number.
What happens after that depends on the state of the animal and you’re more than likely going to be left to use your best judgement. Criminal charges for a person who smashes a window could be left up to the officer who responds to the scene. If a dog is truly in distress, has passed out, or it is clear the dog will not make it waiting for law enforcement, try to take a video and involve witnesses who can vouch for the severity of the situation.
Remember that even though you may not be charged with a criminal offense, you could be held civilly liable for damages to the vehicle.
It comes down to what price you’re personally willing to pay to help an animal.
What can you do to help prevent these situations?
- If you are a pet owner yourself, be responsible. Leave your dog at home as much as possible unless transporting them for an activity specifically related to them. Don’t leave them in the shade for an errand, don’t stop for groceries, and never leave them in a hot vehicle without air conditioning.
- Tell your friends and tell them often. If you see someone leaving their vehicle with an animal in it, speak up! Remind them of the consequences. If someone is in a bind, offer to sit outside with their dog while they run inside.
- Call your state legislator and ask them to sponsor a pawsome piece of legislation similar to those in Maine, Maryland, or Indiana, that protects animals and those who seek to help them.
This article is not intended to be used as or considered “legal advice” as the author is not an attorney. The article is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney. Only your attorney can advise you on what you should do and AllOnGeorgia is not recommending or discouraging any behavior in any capacity. For more specific answers, contact your local law enforcement agency.