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Can You Legally Break a Window to Save a Dog?


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Pet dog left in hot car during summer heat

Each summer, news of children and pets left in hot cars persists, reminding us to be vigilant. According to the National Weather Service, the inside of a vehicle can reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit in just 20 minutes when the temperature outside is 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you ever see a child left unattended in a car, it’s important to act quickly, as heatstroke can occur in a matter of minutes. It is widely accepted that a person may use force (such as breaking a window) to save a child from a hot vehicle, without fear of legal consequence, if they believe the child’s life is in immediate danger. However, while you may be compelled to act similarly to free a dog from a hot car, the law may not be so forgiving.

CAN you break a car window to save an animal?

It is more common for pet owners to leave a dog unattended in a vehicle than a child, and on a hot day, an animal is as much at risk of heatstroke as a child. But only a handful of states have laws that legally allow a bystander to break the window of a vehicle to save an animal. Currently, only eight states, including Wisconsin, have a Good Samaritan “hot car law” that allows private citizens to take matters into their own hands to save an animal, with varying restrictions for each state. See if your state is on the list here.  

In ALL other states, if you break another person’s car window, the vehicle’s owner could sue for damages, and if property damage exceeds a certain amount, you may face criminal charges for destruction of personal property. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, "animals are property in every jurisdiction, so taking an animal from another's vehicle could trigger theft, burglary, trespassing to property, and/or conversion of property charge — among others.”

What should you do if you see an animal in a hot car?

  1. Call 911, public safety or a humane officer.
  2. Know the signs of heatstroke and let the authority you contact know if you fear the animal is in immediate danger. Heatstroke symptoms include: excessive panting, seizures, bloody diarrhea, bloody vomiting, and stupor.
  3. Try to find the owner of the vehicle.
  4. Shade the animal through the window until authorities arrive.

If you choose to take matters into your own hands to save an animal from a hot car, just know that you may face legal repercussions for doing so. The best course of action is always to call 911. For information about what to do if you see a CHILD left in a hot car, read our article about Vehicle Heatstroke Awareness.

For more information about this topic, you can contact the experienced attorneys at Hupy and Abraham by calling 800-800-5678 or by starting a live chat 24/7! 

Jill Erin Wellskopf
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Director of Marketing, Hupy and Abraham

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