Animal Law

Chart: State Laws Protecting Pets Left in Cars—and People Who Rescue Them

A guide to states where it’s a crime to leave dogs or other animals in hot or cold cars, and where concerned bystanders are allowed to break into cars if needed to save the pets.

Every summer, media outlets and humane societies remind pet owners how dangerous it is to leave dogs or cats in cars on warm days. Yet people still do it, and pets still die as a result. In many states in the U.S., pet owners who take this risk could also face fines or even criminal charges. And in a growing handful of states with "Good Samaritan" laws, passersby can take action to save the animals.

Rescuing Pets From Parked Cars

If you see a dog in obvious distress inside a car, what can you do to help?

  • Wherever you live, you should try to contact local animal control authorities or law enforcement. Authorities may be able to track down and contact the car owner. Many states also allow officers or emergency responders to use force, if needed, to save endangered animals.
  • If your state has a Good Samaritan law, you may break into a locked car when it’s absolutely necessary to rescue the animal. But in order to be protected from criminal and/or civil liability, rescuers must take certain steps—including calling 911 or law enforcement first. So it’s important to know the legal requirements where you live. Check the links below for more information about the laws in your state. If your state doesn’t have a Good Samaritan law yet, call your local humane society or animal control to find out if your city or county has a similar ordinance.
  • If you’re worried about the animal but it doesn’t appear to be an emergency, try taking down the license plate number and ask the managers in all nearby stores or other establishments to make an announcement.

The Range of Hot Car Laws

Prohibitions on leaving pets unattended in vehicles are often called “hot car” laws, but they generally apply in extreme cold as well—or under any conditions that could threaten an animal’s health. These laws vary from state to state. Some apply to all animals, while others cover only pets or certain species. Some are very specific, while others simply prohibit confining animals in vehicles under any dangerous conditions or in a cruel way. The penalties for violating these laws differ as well, ranging from civil infractions (like tickets) to misdemeanor fines or jail time—or even felony charges if the animal died as a result. Even in states that don’t have specific legal provisions on animals in parked cars, people might still face criminal charges under more general animal cruelty laws if their pets died or were seriously harmed while left unattended in a vehicle.

Click on your state’s name (below) for more detailed information about its animal protection laws, including provisions on pets in cars and Good Samaritan rescues. Note that states can change their laws any time—and this is an area where legislators are responding to calls for stricter rules. So it’s always a good idea to check the current laws (through the links provided in the individual state articles).

Speaking With a Lawyer

If you’re facing criminal charges for leaving your pet in a car under dangerous conditions—or you’ve been sued after trying to rescue an animal from someone else’s car—it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. An animal law attorney can explain the relevant statutes and local ordinances, the potential legal consequences of your actions, and any possible defenses you may have. If authorities have seized your pet, a lawyer should also be able to explain the process for getting your animal back.

State

Specific Legal Penalty?

Rescue Allowed?

Alabama

No

Alaska

No

Arizona

Criminal

Officers/any person

Arkansas

No

California

Criminal

Officers/any person

Colorado

Yes

Any person

Connecticut

No

Delaware

Crime

Officers

District of Columbia

Civil

Officers

Florida

No

Any person

Georgia

No

Hawaii

No

Idaho

No

Illinois

Criminal

Officers

Indiana

No

Officers/any person

Iowa

No

Kansas

No

Kentucky

No

Louisiana

No

Maine

Civil/criminal

Officers

Maryland

Civil

Officers

Massachusetts

Civil

Officers/any person

Michigan

No

Minnesota

Civil/criminal

Officers

Mississippi

No

Missouri

No

Montana

No

Nebraska

No

Nevada

Criminal

Officers

New Hampshire

Criminal

Officers

New Jersey

Criminal

New Mexico

No

New York

Civil

Officers

North Carolina

No

Officers

North Dakota

Civil

Officers

Ohio

No

Any person

Oklahoma

No

Oregon

No

Any person

Pennsylvania

No

Rhode Island

Criminal

Officers

South Carolina

No

South Dakota

No

Officers

Tennessee

Criminal

Any person

Texas

No

Utah

No

Vermont

Criminal

Officers/any person

Virginia

No

Officers

Washington

Civil/criminal

Officers

West Virginia

Criminal

Wisconsin

Civil/criminal

Any person

Wyoming

No

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