Breaking into a hot car to save a dog will not result in criminal charges if you properly document the situation.
Though summer swiftly fades, temperatures in the world continue to rise. With the heat came a wave of social media users circulating advice about dogs trapped in hot cars. The claim came in the form of a bullet point list and asserted that taking the proper photos as evidence assures you won’t be held liable for breaking a car window to save a dog. As the information traveled, user confusion increased: fact-checking caused some users to think that experts advised against saving an animal from a hot car.
Saving an animal from a hot car is always the ethical choice, however, it can result in criminal charges. The steps listed in the claim, which include taking a photo of the car’s license plate and proving through photographic evidence that the weather is hot, are not suggested by any police department. The Animal Legal Defense Fund states that while 29 states have a law to make it illegal to leave an animal in a hot car, only 8 states have laws to protect a citizen rescuing a dog from facing charges.
Massachusetts, Florida, California, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin — 6 of the 8 states — require the person breaking the window to contact law enforcement before any action is taken. They note that in New Jersey and West Virginia it is illegal for anyone, even law enforcement, to break into a car to save an animal.
The meme leaves out this information. There are many cases of citizens facing charges due to their heroic actions. If you’re not sure about your state’s particular laws and find yourself in this precarious situation, contact local law enforcement for guidance.