Last month, California lawmakers proposed a new law that would allow people who spot a dog (and presumably any animal) left in a hot car to legally smash the window out to rescue it. Assembly Bill 797, “The Right to Rescue Act,” was drafted by Assemblymembers Marc Steinorth of Rancho Cucamonga, Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar, and Kristin Olsen of Riverbank. As of June 6, it was amended in the state Senate, and it is making its way through the legislature. The state Assembly members made a video of themselves sitting in a hot car for 21 minutes to illustrate the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot vehicle could pose.
It is summer. California is known for its heat waves and wildfires during the season. Just this week, as temperatures reached 91 degrees in Sacramento last week, it was reported by the Dodo that a small dog had been left in a hot car. When firefighters arrived on the scene, after being called by a concerned passerby, they found the temperature inside the car had reached 160 degrees. The dog was on the dash, appearing to be panting. When the owners returned back to the car, they were cited and their dog was surrendered to animal control.
Leaving an Unattended Animal in a Car
While the proposed bill would allow bystanders to legally break your window to rescue a dog, it is already a crime in California to leave a pet unattended in a motor vehicle. See CA Penal Code § 597.7. Whether leaving a pet alone is a crime depends on the circumstances. You are guilty of this offense if you leave an animal unattended when:
- It is too hot;
- It is too cold;
- There is no adequate ventilation, food or water;
- Or there are other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death.
Leaving an animal in a hot car is considered animal abuse. Cars have the greenhouse effect due to the glass, so temperatures surge inside cars by as much as 30 degrees. It is not recommended to leave an animal unattended in a hot vehicle unless the engine is on and the AC is running. It is simply not enough to just leave the window open a crack.
A first time conviction for leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle is an infraction that carries a $100 fine, as long as the animal did not suffer harm. However, well-intentioned people often accuse others of animal abuse when it is not the case. Leaving a husky in a car that has the windows open when the weather is 40 degrees for example, is unlikely to cause harm to the dog. However, a tiny, hairless chihuahua could be a different story. Continue reading