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Can I Legally Rescue a Dog in a Hot Car?

Unfortunately, I still see people leave their dog in a hot car during the summer.  I have always worried that I could get in trouble trying to save a pet.  With the summer rapidly approaching, what is my risk if I try to save a pet in a hot car?

“That’s an awesome question and something I have asked myself at one time.  The answer depends on where you live.  We know leaving the car windows open 1-2 inches does not prevent death from overheating!  It is easy to see why pets and children die in these situations. The graph below shows just how dangerous it is to leave your dog in a hot car for even short time periods.”


Graph showing how hot a car gets and how quickly it becomes dangerous for dogs left in cars

K9 Dogs in Hot Cars Aren’t Unknown

“What drives me crazy is the number of police dogs who have died for the same reason.  Frankly, despite widely published knowledge, people still do it all the time.  For your question, let’s skip that discussion for now.   I have a lot of clients who tell me they never  leave their dog alone.  And given the anxious, “only child” behavior displayed by some of these dogs, I believe the owners.  But if the dog cannot come into the place of business what does an owner do?  Yep, leave the window cracked.”

Rescuing a Dog in a Hot Car

“So what to do (or have you done) if faced with this situation?  What is it legal to do?? Some advocate just breaking the car window in hot weather.  Unfortunately, that can put you in civil or legal jeopardy for damage to the car or theft of the pet if you leave the scene.  The reality is unclear and varies by jurisdiction and district attorney.  Last fall, California passed a bill that would specifically protect you if you first call law enforcement.  Then, if  the pet is in imminent danger, the law would protect you from both civil and criminal liability for breaking the car window.  (hmmm… just who defines imminent danger?)  You are also required to wait  with the vehicle and then turn the dog over to law enforcement or emergency responders when they arrive on scene.”

Take the Right Steps to Protect Yourself and the Dog

“My first recommendation, if the animal appears stable, is to note the time and look for the owner.  Record the make, color, and license plate number and have the owner paged if possible.  If the situation is dangerous, immediately call 911.  Only after calling 911, and giving them the situation, would I consider breaking a window to rescue a dog in a hot car.  If they tell you help is not available within an appropriate time and the animal is seriously distressed, then consider breaking the window.  Good Samaritan laws, where they exist, should protect you in that situation.  Unfortunately, since local laws and prosecutors vary, there are no guarantees.  If you have questions, I would discuss it with an assistant DA or police officer in your area.  Remember though, some do not know the most current animal law!  Save the pet, but think and don’t forget to protect yourself.  If you believe the pet is in danger, call 911 first.”

For more information on how heatstroke can affect pets and humans, visit No Heatstroke.

Learn more about the author, Dr. Kevin Winkler, on our Contributors Page.


  1. Heather

    April 13, 2017 2:25 am

    Such an important message. Thank you for posting this. I will definitely spread the news.

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