We hear versions of the same tragic story every year as the weather heats up: someone leaves a dog in a parked car and the animal dies, or passer-bys are forced to break a window to save the dog, and then may face criminal charges for their act of kindness.
Lawmakers in Tennessee have given us another reason (besides Graceland and a happening music scene at venues like Bonnaroo and the Grand Ole Opry) to love their state: it’s House BILL 537 – thought to be the first of its kind in the country – that makes it legal to break into a car to save a dog.
The law is an extension of Tennessee’s “Good Samaritan Law” that allows people to break into cars to save a child. For protection under the law, specific steps must still be taken, including searching for the owner and notifying law enforcement.
Sixteen states already have laws on their books that prohibit keeping an animal in an unattended car, but Tennessee takes it further and gives more power and protection to the rescuers.
With other states’ laws, there are many shades of grey regarding civilian rescue efforts for pets in distress. States with statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in a confined vehicle are Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Offenders in these states can and often do face animal cruelty charges. But even in these states, it’s generally only law enforcement officers who are authorized to take actions like smashing a car window to free the animal.
We need more, of course. Every state should mirror Tennessee and pass laws that give citizens the ability to intervene to protect animals suffering in hot cars without the threat of civil liability.
People can be careless and unaware of the dangers a hot car poses to their pet. It takes only minutes for a pet to face death from heatstroke. Even with the windows cracked, an outside temperature of 78 degrees translates to up to 160 degrees inside of a closed car. If you see a dog at risk, never hesitate: call 911 immediately.
Most of us have witnessed an animal in a car looking distressed, and many have wished that pets’ owner could experience the same discomfort and fear to finally realize how dangerous the situation is. Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward put himself to that test, and shows us how quickly temperatures inside of a closed car can rise.
This potential danger to animals has been well documented, but laws for their protection still vary widely from state to state, and in some places they don’t exist at all.
Let’s take a moment to applaud Tennessee for passing House Bill 537 and making it a state law effective July 1 of this year. Lawmakers in every state must follow their lead and pass similar laws that remove legal liability from anyone who takes reasonable action to save the life of an animal.