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Can You Legally Break a Window to Save a Dog in a Hot Car?


Last Updated on January 6, 2019

You’re in a parking lot on a hot day and you see a dog locked up in a vehicle: Can you break a window to save a dog who might otherwise die?

You might be surprised what state laws say about your legal right to break a window to save a dog trapped in a hot car. The biggest surprise is that there’s no single correct answer.

On July 4, a dog died after police said it had been left in a hot car for hours. It happened at a Walmart in Trussville, Alabama, where someone called 911 to report that a dog in a locked vehicle appeared to be in distress.

Employees of the store tried paging the owner of the vehicle, police said, but no one showed up. Police then had to break a window to rescue the dog. The dog was alive once they got her out of the vehicle but died shortly after.

There is video, WBRC-TV reports, taken by a witness that shows the police breaking a window and pulling the dog out. It can be viewed at this link, but you may find it very difficult to watch and very disturbing. Facebook has even placed a “cover” over the video warning it may show violent or graphic content.

If you’re an animal lover, you probably don’t want to see it.

If you think there’s nothing wrong with leaving a dog in a hot car for hours, maybe you should.

As I said, the law on such situations varies from state to state.

In Alabama, for example, where the aforementioned dog died after spending hours in a hot car, a so-called “Good Samaritan” law that would allow anyone to break a car window to rescue a pet is still pending, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. But that was as of last year; I’m not sure whether the law actually passed.

In Michigan, a proposed law would make it a felony to leave a pet in a hot (or a cold) car if doing so results in the pet’s death. At the same time, however, WWMT-TV reports, “You are not protected from prosecution in Michigan if you break a window or damage a car to rescue a pet.”

Does that make sense to you?

It’s absolutely inconceivable to me that there are any states that might allow someone to face criminal charges for trying to save an animal who appears to be in distress from a hot car.

Do lawmakers expect you to try to find the owner, call police, and just stand there waiting as you watch an animal suffer?

At the very least, there’s no excuse for laws that would prevent law enforcement officers from being able to do so.

It’s not like people haven’t been warned about the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car; we do these stories every year. Year after year. Over and over again.

And it’s completely illogical to criminalize the act of leaving an animal in such a terrible situation, but then criminalize any effort to save one who is left in such a situation anyway.

If our laws are any indication about how much (or little) we care about animals, one almost hates to ask what the laws would say about what legally can and can’t be done if someone was to spot a child in distress in a hot car.

I’m sure I wouldn’t want to know what the legal options in that case would be.

But to be safe, maybe we should all reach out to our local law enforcement and ask the question, “Can I legally break a window to save a dog?” You may not like the answer, but apparently the law might not be what you assume it is.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.