What To Do If You See A Dog In A Hot Car

"Dog apparently checking his wing mirror as he drives the car. Good business metaphor playing on the idea of being in the driving seat. Could also suit concepts of safe driving, road rage and animal welfare."

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If you see a dog locked in a hot car, you’ll probably want to do something to save that pup. Every year dogs die from being left in hot cars, even though many states have created laws that make it a crime. Before you immediately start smashing windows, there are some things you should know, including what is legal and illegal in your area. Many states have laws protecting those who break into cars to save animals, and other states do not. You should be prepared for when you see a dog in need and know what steps you should take to insure their safety.

What Is The Law?

Small white dog waiting in car

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The following states have laws that grant immunity to civilians who break into a hot car when a dog’s safety is at risk: California, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. These states protect individuals, but only if they go through certain steps and follow guidelines before breaking into cars to rescue dogs.

Other states only protect law enforcement, animal control officers, or certain other government employees who break into hot cars to save dogs. These states include Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

The states not listed above do not have laws specifically created to grant immunity to those who break into hot cars to save dogs. However, several of them do have broader laws about animal cruelty, neglect, or endangerment that can apply to the situation of a dog in a hot car. You should familiarize yourself with the local laws in your area and call authorities if you see a dog in a hot car.

What Steps Should You Take?

Dog Looking Through Car Window

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Regardless of where you live, you should make an attempt to contact the owner of the vehicle. If it is parked in a lot, go into the establishment and talk to the manager or an employee about the situation. They may be able to find the owner of the vehicle and resolve it. If you can’t find the owner, you’ll need to take further steps to get the dog to safety.

All laws that protect individuals who break into hot cars to save dogs have certain guidelines that must be followed. If you live in a state that grants immunity to civilians, you should familiarize yourself with these requirements. In general, you must take the following steps to be protected under the law:

  • You must have a reasonable belief that the dog is in danger of death or great harm.
  • You must check to see if forced entry is necessary, meaning all doors are locked and windows are shut.
  • You must call emergency services, including law enforcement or animal control.
  • You must stay with the animal until law enforcement arrives.
  • You must use no more force than necessary to break into the car, which means you can’t vandalize or cause more damage than needed to get the dog to safety.

If you live in a state that grants immunity to law enforcement or animal control officers, call 911 any time you see a dog locked in a hot car. They will have legal authority to break into the vehicle. If you live in a state that has no specific law regarding dogs locked in hot cars, you should still call 911 and follow the instructions of law enforcement officers.

What If The Law Doesn’t Protect Me?

A boxer (dog) laying on the front seat of a car, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

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If you live in a state that doesn’t protect people who break into hot cars to save dogs, and you have attempted to contact the owner of the vehicle and law enforcement to no avail, you have to decide if a dog’s life is worth potentially breaking the law and facing the consequences. Personally, I couldn’t let a dog suffer and die if I could do something about it, and I’d much rather pay damages than allow something terrible to happen. Ultimately, that is a choice you will have to make on your own. I cannot tell you to break the law. Only you can decide what is right.

How Do I Break A Car Window?

Close-Up Portrait Of Dog

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If you’ve taken all the necessary steps to save the dog from the hot car and you’ve reached the point where it’s time to break a window, you may have some difficulty shattering the glass. This is because car windows are made of tempered glass that is meant to withstand blows from blunt objects. So a bat, a hammer, or even a rock might have trouble shattering a car window.

An easier way to break a car window is to take a spark plug, which can be found under the hood of many cars, and break a piece of porcelain off of it. The sharp point of the porcelain can cause a small fracture in the glass that spreads and shatters the whole window.

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Sometimes you simply have to use what is on hand and keep trying. One man in Canada used a large rock to smash a car window and save a dog. Regardless of what you use, you should break the window farthest from where the dog is. Car windows are meant to shatter in such a way that minimizes the chance of cuts or injury, but a rock or projectile can still cause some damage, and you don’t want to hit the dog.

What Do I Do Next?

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Get the dog somewhere cool and do whatever you can to lower their body temperature. Make sure that they get plenty of water. If law enforcement still hasn’t arrived, you may need to take the dog to an emergency vet that can help. Leave your contact information on the car or with the employees of the establishment that it is parked in front of.

Make a report with law enforcement, noting the license plate of the hot car. Get the information of any potential witnesses that can vouch for the fact that the dog was in immediate danger. Make sure that the owner is held accountable for their actions and that they know that what they did was dangerous and irresponsible.

Would you break into a car to save a dog’s life? Have you come across a dog locked in a hot car before? Let us know in the comments below!