Is Leaving a Dog in a Hot Car a Crime?

Content Warning: Animal Abuse, Death: Three pugs were discovered locked in a hot car in the parking lot of a Las Vegas Walmart. 

The three pugs were visibly in distress, with one, in particular, exhibiting severe signs of hyperthermia (overheating). Passersby called the local police who responded to the scene. The police wedged the windows open to access the inside and were able to reach in through the windows to unlock the vehicle. 

Pugs being saved from sweltering car

Two of the three pugs were sitting together in the passenger seat, both panting excessively and struggling to move. One of the two appeared to be experiencing neurological symptoms and was in extreme distress even as it was removed from the car. 

The owner of the car and the three dogs had chosen to leave her pugs locked in the hot car while she shopped at Walmart. The 62-year-old woman was arrested at the scene and charged with a misdemeanor. 

Content Warning: Animal Abuse. This video is extremely disturbing and may induce sadness and anxiety.

Thanks to the good samaritans who stopped to call for help, these dogs didn’t have to die alone in a sweltering car. Unfortunately, one of the three pugs had to be euthanized due to the severity of its heat exhaustion, exhibiting just how dangerous leaving a dog in the car can really be. 

Is Leaving a Dog in a Hot Car a Crime?

Yes, in some states, leaving a dog in a hot car is a crime. 31 states have specific laws pertaining to pets abandoned in motor vehicles in extreme temperatures. Some punish individuals who endanger their pets, while others grant immunity to individuals who may break laws (i.e. breaking into a car) to intervene when they see a dog in distress. 

In those states that specifically prohibit leaving a dog in a hot car, the law also covers other dangerous conditions like extreme cold. Remember, the word “extreme” here doesn’t mean it has to be -40 or 110 degrees. We’ll cover what temperatures are safe and unsafe a little later, but keep in mind that “extreme” and “dangerous” conditions are not uncommon. 

It’s important to know your local laws in the event that you see a dog locked in a hot or cold car. Knowing whether you can call the police or do something yourself can help you to make the fastest, most efficient decision and possibly save the dog’s life. 

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So, is it illegal to leave a dog in a car in California? What about West Virginia? 

Leaving A Dog In A Car Unattended: The Laws, State by State

StateWhat’s Prohibited?Who Can Help?Criminal Penalty
AlabamaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
AlaskaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
ArizonaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlClass 1 Misdemeanor
ArkansasNo specific lawsNo oneNone
CaliforniaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency responders$100-$500 fine, up to 6 months in county jail
ColoradoAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersDetermined by local municipality
ConnecticutAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersDetermined by local municipality
DelawareAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlClass A Misdemeanor
FloridaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersDetermined by local municipality
GeorgiaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
HawaiiNo specific lawsNo oneNone
IdahoNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesNone
IllinoisAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Animal Control, or Humane AgentClass C or Class B Misdemeanor
IndianaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
IowaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
KansasAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
KentuckyAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
LouisianaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
MaineAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Animal Control, Humane Agent, or Licensed Security GuardPay impound fees for animal
MarylandAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal Control$70 fine
MassachusettsAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency responders$150-$500 fine
MichiganNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesNone
MinnesotaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlPetty Misdemeanor and $25 fine
MississippiNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesNone
MissouriNo specific lawsNo oneNone
MontanaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
NebraskaNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesNone
NevadaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, Animal Control, or Search and RescueMisdemeanor
New HampshireAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, Animal ControlMisdemeanor or Class B Felony
New JerseyAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, Animal Control$500 – $2,000 fine
New MexicoNo specific lawsNo oneNone
New YorkAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, Animal Control$50 – $250 fine
North CarolinaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, Animal ControlNone
North DakotaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPoliceInfraction
OhioAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
OklahomaMunicipal laws – check your local ordinancePolice, sometimesNone
OregonAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
PennsylvaniaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agents, or Animal ControlNone
Rhode IslandAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agents, or Animal ControlUp to 1 year of imprisonment and/or up to $1,000 fine
South CarolinaNo specific lawsNo oneNone
South DakotaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlNone
TennesseeAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agents, or Animal ControlNone
TexasNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesUp to $4,000 fine
UtahNo specific lawsNo oneNone
VermontAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlUp to 1 year of imprisonment and/or up to $2,000 fine
VirginiaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agents, or Animal ControlNone
WashingtonAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyPolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal ControlClass 2 Civil Infraction
West VirginiaAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likelyNo oneUp to 6 months of jail time and/or $300 – $2,000 fine
WisconsinAnimals unattended and confined a car where injury, suffering, or death is likely *Note: This law only offers immunity to good samaritans, but does not outline regulations for the owner of the car/dogAny person who has 1) a belief that forcible entry is necessary, 2) contacted 911, 3) turns the animal over to emergency respondersNone
WyomingNo specific laws. *Note: some individuals may be charged with committing cruelty to animals, but this is a case-by-case basis and not a guaranteePolice, Fire Fighters, Humane Agent, or Animal Control, sometimesNone

*This list does not include Washington D.C., but it is worth noting that it does not have any specific laws pertaining to this issue. 

FAQ

Beyond the specific laws pertaining to animals confined in hot or cold cars, people have plenty of questions about what to do in these situations. Here are just a few of the most frequently asked questions:

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What Is a Safe Temperature To Leave a Dog in the Car?

It is extremely important to never leave your dog unattended in a car for more than 10 minutes, even in the perfect conditions. If you need to leave your dog unattended, it should be left at home. In unavoidable circumstances or for quick trips into the coffee shop to pick up your morning Joe, dogs can be briefly left alone in temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Temperatures below 40 degrees and above 70 degrees can quickly become dangerous, so you should never leave your dog in a car in these conditions, even for 5 minutes. 

Estimated vehicle interior air temperature V. elapsed time

Can You Leave a Dog in the Car By Itself?

Some dogs cannot safely be left in a car unattended, no matter the temperature. Dogs with anxiety, destructive tendencies, or disabilities should never be left unattended in a car. Similarly, puppies and senior dogs should never be unattended in a motor vehicle. If your dog has lots of experience in the car, and is comfortable being left for brief periods of time, it may be safe to leave your dog for 5 minutes in good conditions. 

dog locked in a parked car

How Long Can You Leave an Animal in the Car?

Live animals should ideally never be left alone in a car. If you absolutely need to leave them unattended, your pet should not be alone for more than 5-10 minutes. For smaller animals, the time limit is shorter. Best practice is to never leave animals in the car by themselves. 

What Should You Do If You See a Dog Alone in a Car?

If you see a dog alone in a car, you should follow these steps. 

  1. Check the temperature. If it is below 40 degrees or above 70, take a closer look at the dog.
  2. Examine the condition of the dog. Does it look distressed, is it panting, can you tell how long it has been alone?
  3. If temperatures are dangerous, check your state’s laws regarding rescuing dogs in cars. 
  4. Call 911. The dispatcher will be able to help you determine whether you should wait for law enforcement or try to rescue the dog yourself.
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How many dogs die in hot cars each year

According to one source, between 2018-201978 pets suffered heatstroke and died in a hot car

Another source states that between 1,800 and 2,000 dogs are lost annually due to car-related heat stroke.

Dogs with broad, short skulls (also known as brachycephalic breeds) are especially susceptible to heatstroke. Pugs and bulldogs are more likely to die while trapped in a hot car.

It’s important to never leave a dog alone in a car, even with the windows cracked. Studies have shown that cracking a window changes the temperature inside the car very little and it can still heat up to dangerous levels in just minutes, putting your dog at risk of heatstrokeThe number of dogs who die in hot cars is likely much higher, as many cases go unreported.

The NHTSA defines a hot car as any car where the temperature inside the car is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can quickly reach 100 degrees or more in just minutes.

Dogs can’t sweat like humans, so they rely on panting to cool down. However, if the temperature inside a car gets too high, panting won’t be enough to keep a dog cool. This can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal.

is it legal to leave dog in car with windows open

You should never leave a dog alone in the car, even with the windows cracked. In some states, it is even illegalStudies have shown that cracking windows does not make it safe on a hot day, and the difference in temperature is insignificant when the car is stationary.

The issue is so important that 31 states have various laws restricting people from leaving their pets unattended in vehicles. 

Some laws ban the practice outright, while others protect law enforcement officers and citizens if they break into cars to rescue pets.

Dog left in car law california

Leaving a dog in a car in California is not illegal, but it is against the law to leave a dog in a vehicle where conditions could put them in danger or harm their health. 

Violating this law could result in a fine of up to $500, potential jail time, or both.

In 2016, rescue provisions were added that allow a person to remove an animal in danger from a vehicle provided they meet several criteria listed in the law.

According to California Penal Code 597.7 PC, the following conditions may endanger an animal:
-excessive heat
-excessive cold
-lack of adequate ventilation
-lack of food or water
-and other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal

How long can you leave a dog in a car with windows open?

It is not recommended to leave a dog alone in a car, even with the windows open. Studies have shown that cracking windows does not make it safe on a hot day, and the difference in temperature is insignificant when the car is stationary. The temperature inside a car can rise quickly and become dangerous for a dog, even on a mild day. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and not leave your dog alone in the car.

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