Dog Overheating Laws Taking Hold in Growing Number of States
By Eric Pesale, Esq.
The summer heat has never been dog’s best friend. This is especially true when dogs are left in cars or non-air conditioned homes despite the sweltering summer heat. And it’s not just an issue on high-temperature days either; indoor temperatures for cars that are left outside in 70-degree weather, for example, temperatures can reach as high as 100 Fahrenheit. These temperatures are enough to cause dog overheating and spur seizures and heat strokes–all of which can cause serious health complications for dogs, including death.
In a growing number of cities and states, however, leaving your dog in an overheated environment is not just a violation of common sense. Instead, it’s being treated as a criminal act, with some states going as far as to treat is as a Class A misdemeanor. This means that in these states, leaving your dog in an overheated car or other indoor environment can not only subject you to thousands of dollars and fines, but also up to a year in prison time. In addition, many states also authorize rescuers to break into the dog owner’s car using reasonable means to rescue dogs that are in imminent danger of death or serious health complications from dog overheating.
Learning about these laws can be helpful in appreciating the stakes involved with leaving your dog in an overheated car, as well as what you can legally do to save others’ dogs from death and serious harm.
Common Characteristics of Dog Overheating Laws
As of today, 26 states have enacted dog overheating laws that either make the act of leaving a dog in overheated environments a criminal activity, or provide immunity for individuals who cause property damage while trying to rescue a dog or other domesticated animal from imminent harm caused by overheating.
These laws, which have been neatly organized in this recently-published table by the Animal Legal and Historical Center, mostly target owners who leave their dogs in overheated cars, but some also stretch the scope of impermissible activity further. New Hampshire’s law, for example, can be applied to any enclosed space where dog overheating could occur, while Maine criminalizes, in part, any acts that leave any animal’s safety, health or well-being in immediate danger of death or extreme suffering as a result from heat or inadequate ventilation. Most of these laws also cover dogs and other types of animals, although some—such as New York and Virginia—only criminalize dog overheating when a service or companion animal is involved.
Immunity Rules for Dog Overheating Rescuers
Many of these laws also grant immunity from civil and criminal charges to rescuers who break into vehicles to rescue dogs. This means that if the rescuer causes any damage to the dog owner’s car in attempting to rescue the dog, the dog owner will not be able to sue the rescuer successfully for damages. Florida, for example, has a broad immunity provision that protects any civilian who breaks into a motor vehicle for the purpose of rescuing a dog from civil liability for damage caused to the dog owner’s vehicle if:
(i) there’s no reasonable method for removing the dog,
(ii) the rescuer had a good faith and reasonable belief that breaking into the vehicle was necessary because the dog was in imminent danger of suffering harm,
(iii) the rescuer notifies police before entering the car,
(iv) the rescuer does not use more force than necessary to open the car,
(v) the rescuer stays with the animal until police or other law enforcement personnel arrive.
While Florida’s immunity laws for dog overheating rescues is broad, other states allow for similar immunity if the rescuer makes reasonable attempts to contact the dog owner beforehand as in Delaware and Massachusetts. Other states, such as Nevada, reserve these immunity protections for law enforcement, peace officers, animal control officers and animal cruelty organizations. It’s best to review your state’s laws to see what acts and other conduct are permissible.
How to Know if Your Dog—or Another Owner’s Dog—is Overheated
If you come across a dog that’s in an enclosed space such as a motor vehicle, it’s important to take action immediately if you see that the dog is in danger of imminent harm or death. As this infographic from the ASPCA illustrates, rising temperatures in cars and other indoor spaces can be too lethal for your dog to withstand. Fortunately, dog overheating is very easy to spot, even for dogs who are being kept in cars. According to PETA, some of the major symptoms of imminent heat strokes in dogs include:
Lack of appetite
Lack of coordination
Should you see any of these symptoms, it would be best to immediately contact the dog’s owner and local authorities before considering taking further action.
As National Dog Day and the summer weekend both wind down, you should be making the most of spending time with your dog. Just make sure you do it in a way that’s both fun and safe for your pet! Being familiar with state dog overheating laws is one way you can help ensure that your dog and others’ pets are safely enjoying the last few weeks of the dog days of summer.