Dogs in Hot Cars: Massachusetts - New Jersey

Author: Simon Isham (3L) 

Post 3 of 5

This is the 3nd post in the Dogs in Hot Cars series written by 3L Simon Isham. Enjoy! 

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Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, both public officials and members of the general public can obtain criminal and civil immunity for saving a suffering animal, but the procedures are different for each class of individual.[1]

Police officers, firefighters, and animal control officers are entitled to enter a vehicle by any means necessary after using reasonable efforts to locate the vehicle's owner. The officers are entitled to enter for the sole purpose of assisting the animal and are not entitled to search the vehicle or seize other items found inside.[2] After removing the animal, the officer must leave a note in a conspicuous location on or in the vehicle bearing the officer's name, title, and the address of the location where the animal may be retrieved.[3] The owner may retrieve the animal only after paying all charges incurred in the animal's care.[4]

A person who is not a police officer, animal control officer, or firefighter has different rules to follow. To help, that person must:

  1. Have a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon known circumstances, that entry into the vehicle is reasonably necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.
  2. Determine that the motor vehicle is locked or there is no other reasonable means for exit.
  3. Notify a law enforcement officer or call 911.
  4. Use no more force than reasonably necessary to enter the vehicle.[5] In a classic scenario, this likely means breaking just one window. Breaking more than one window, kicking the fender or keying the car will cause the would-be hero to lose immunity from civil and criminal liability.
  5. Remain with the animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the vehicle until law enforcement or another first responder arrives.[6] The wording of the statute seems to allow moving the animal out of the elements and to an adjacent location that is safe for the animal, such as an air conditioned building.

The owner of the animal may be subject to a fine of up to $150 for a first offense, up to $300 for a second offense, and up to $500 for any subsequent offense.[7]

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Michigan

Michigan currently has no law specifically making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot or cold car, nor does it allow members of the general public to break into a vehicle to save a suffering animal; however, a pair of bills introduced in 2016 aim to criminalize leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle in hot or cold weather.[8]

First offenders would receive a fine of up to $350 and/or up to 45 days in jail.[9] Repeat offenders would receive a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.[10] If the negligent treatment results in serious harm to the animal, the maximum fine would be upped to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.[11] If the negligent treatment results in the death of the animal, up to a $5,000 fine and up to 5 years in jail.[12]

The bills have been stalled in the state legislature’s judiciary committee for more than a year now. The judiciary committee has not made any sort of decision on either bill in that time.

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Minnesota

Minnesota’s laws do not allow a member of the general public to break into a car to save a suffering dog, but they do allow people with certain jobs to do so.[13] Police officers, humane agents, "dog wardens" (a.k.a. animal control officers) or volunteer or professional firefighters may use reasonable force to enter a vehicle and retrieve a dog or cat.[14] The officer is required to use reasonable efforts to contact the owner and arrange for the animal's return home, but if the officer is unable to contact the owner, she may take the animal to a shelter.[15]

Minnesota law makes it a crime to leave a dog or cat inside a parked vehicle in a way that endangers the animal's health or safety.[16] The fine is $25.[17] This is one of the least harsh punishments for this type of behavior in the country, although the law was one of the first of its type. Additionally, the law imposes no restrictions on the owner's ability to obtain future animals.

Note: The Minnesota law only applies to dogs and cats, not to other types of animals.

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Mississippi

Mississippi currently has no law allowing members of the public to break into a vehicle to save a suffering dog or cat. This doesn't mean that pet owners in Mississippi can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Although keeping an animal in a hot vehicle has not been specifically made a crime in Mississippi, carrying a dog or cat in a vehicle in a cruel or inhumane manner is a misdemeanor under the general animal cruelty statute.[18] Owners found in violation of this law may be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 6 months.[19]

Note: Missisippi’s vehicular animal cruelty statute only applies to dogs and cats, not to other types of animals.

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Missouri

Missouri currently has no law allowing members of the public to break into a vehicle to save a suffering dog or cat. This doesn't mean that pet owners in Missouri can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Although keeping an animal in a hot vehicle has not been specifically made a crime in Missouri, a person who fails to provide adequate care for an animal in his custody is guilty of animal neglect under Missouri law.[20] First-time violators may face fines of up to $300 and/or up to 15 days in jail.[21] Repeat offenders may face fines of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months in jail.[22] In addition, the animal may be confiscated until the owner pays any expenses incurred for the animal’s maintenance.[23]

Note: Missouri defines “animal” as “every living vertebrate except a human being,” making it one of the broadest definitions in the country, but excluding common invertebrate pets such as  jellyfish, tarantulas, or hermit crabs.

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Montana

Montana currently has no law allowing members of the public to break into a vehicle to save a suffering dog or cat. This doesn't mean that pet owners in Montana can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Although keeping an animal in a hot vehicle has not been specifically made a crime in Montana, carrying or confining an animal in a cruel manner constitutes animal cruelty under Montana law.[24] First-time offenders may be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned for up to one year.[25] Subsequent offenses may result in a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a sentence of 2 years.[26] The owner may also be required to forfeit possession of the animal to the county.[27] The animal may returned after the owner serves his sentence and pays for the animal's incurred care, at the discretion of the court.[28]

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Nebraska

Under current Nebraska law there is currently no law allowing a member of the general public to break a car window to save an ailing animal, and there is no law specifically criminalizing leaving a dog in a hot car. In fact, Nebraska’s animal cruelty laws are so vague that only “cruel neglect” is currently criminal, and it may or may not cover animals left in hot cars.

A bill introduced in 2016 to the Nebraska legislature proposes to give civil and criminal liability to members of the public who wish to help an ailing animal.[29] In order to retain the protection the bill proposes, a person must:

  1. Have a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon known circumstances, that entry into the vehicle is reasonably necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.[30]
  2. Determine that the motor vehicle is locked or there is no other reasonable means for exit.[31]
  3. Notify a law enforcement officer or call 911.[32]
  4. Use no more force than reasonably necessary to enter the vehicle.[33] In a classic scenario, this likely means breaking just one window. Breaking more than one window, kicking the fender or keying the car will cause the would-be hero to lose immunity from civil and criminal liability.
  5. Place a written notice on the windshield or driver's side door of the vehicle noting the rescuer's name, telephone number or other contact information, an explanation of why forcible entry was necessary, the location of the animal, and the fact that the authorities have been notified.[34]
  6. Remain with the animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the vehicle until law enforcement or another first responder arrives.[35] The wording of the statute seems to allow moving the animal out of the elements and to an adjacent location that is safe for the animal, such as an air conditioned building.

The bill also provides that a person who attempts to administer further medical care to an animal who seems to need it will not be civilly liable for further injury or death to that animal.[36] Unfortunately, this proposal has been indefinitely postponed for voting in the Nebraska legislature since April of 2016.[37]

Note: Nebraska’s definition of animal is “any vertebrate member of the animal kingdom,” however this definition is limited to exclude any uncaptured wild animal or livestock.[38]

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Nevada

In 2017, the Nevada legislature passed a new law making it a misdemeanor to allow a dog or a cat to remain unattended in a vehicle if the heat or cold could pose a danger to the animal.[39] The new law also allows for certain officials to liberate cats and dogs from hot or cold vehicles.[40] Police officers, government employees whose primary duty is to ensure public safety, officers of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals who are authorized to make arrests, animal control officers, volunteer or professional firefighters, or members of a search and rescue organization under the supervision of a sheriff, may break into a vehicle to save a cat or dog.[41] The Nevada law is unique in that it empowers members of a search and rescue organization to take action to save an animal. The protections of this law do not apply to police dogs or dogs that are in the possession of an animal control officer, other first responder during an emergency, or dogs in the possession of a hunter.[42]

Note: The Nevada law only applies to dogs and cats, not any other type of animal.

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New Hampshire

Although members of the general public in New Hampshire are not empowered to take action when they see an animal trapped in a hot or cold car, police officers or agents of a licensed humane organization may do so.[43] New Hampshire’s law is unique because it allows agents of a licensed humane organization to take action; such agents do not need to be officers of the organization, nor do they need to be authorized to make arrests, as they do in a few other states.

In addition, the New Hampshire law provides that confining “an animal in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal” is animal cruelty.[44] Violators will be charged with a misdemeanor, for which the maximum sentence is 12 months in jail and a $2,000 fine.[45]

Note: In New Hampshire, an animal is defined as “a domestic animal, household pet, or wild animal held in captivity,”[46] which is one of the most expansive definitions of animal in the country, since it does not exclude invertebrates.

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New Jersey

New Jersey does not allow members of the general public to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal, nor does it specifically allow police officers to do so. However, the state does make it a crime to “leave the living animal or creature unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.”[47] Those who violate this law will be fined between $500 and $2,500 and/or imprisoned for up to six months.[48] The court must also assign a sentence of 30 days of community service, and may direct that this sentence be served with an organization directed at the prevention of cruelty to animals.[49]

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[1] M.G.L.A. 140 § 174F.

[2] M.G.L.A. 140 § 174F(b).

[3] M.G.L.A. 140 § 174F(c).

[4] Id.

[5] M.G.L.A. 140 § 174F(e).

[6] Id.

[7] M.G.L.A. 140 § 174F(g).

[8] Mich. S.B.s 0930 & 0931.

[9] Mich. S.B.s 0930 at 8.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] M.S.A. § 346.57.

[14] M.S.A. § 346.57(2).

[15] Id.

[16] M.S.A. § 346.57(1).

[17] M.S.A. § 346.57(3).

[18] M.C.A. § 97-41-5.

[19] M.C.A. § 97-41-16(2)(b)(i).

[20] M.C.A. § 578.009.

[21] V.A.M.S. § 578.009(2) & 557.011.

[22] Id.

[23] V.A.M.S. § 578.009(3) & (4).

[24] M.C.A. § 45-8-211(1)(b).

[25] M.C.A. § 45-8-211(2)(a).

[26] Id.

[27] M.C.A. § 45-8-211(2)(b).

[28] M.C.A. § 45-8-211(3)(a) & (c).

[29] N.L.B. 916 (2016).

[30] N.L.B. 916(1)(b) (2016).

[31] N.L.B. 916(1)(a) (2016).

[32] N.L.B. 916(1)(c) (2016).

[33] N.L.B. 916(1)(f) (2016).

[34] N.L.B. 916(1)(d) (2016).

[35] N.L.B. 916(1)(e) (2016).

[36] N.L.B. 916(2) (2016).

[37] NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE | Tʜᴇ ᴏꜰꜰɪᴄɪᴀʟ ꜱɪᴛᴇ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜᴇ Nᴇʙʀᴀꜱᴋᴀ Uɴɪᴄᴀᴍᴇʀᴀʟ LᴇɢɪꜱʟᴀᴛᴜʀᴇNᴇʙʀᴀꜱᴋᴀ Lᴇɢɪꜱʟᴀᴛᴜʀᴇ - Lᴇɢɪꜱʟᴀᴛɪᴠᴇ Dᴏᴄᴜᴍᴇɴᴛ, https://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/view_bill.php?DocumentID=28657.

[38] N.R.S. § 28-1008(2).

[39] N.R.S. § 574.195.

[40] N.R.S. § 574.195(2).

[41] Id.

[42] N.R.S. § 574.195(2)(b)-(d).

[43] N.H.R.S. § 644:8-aa(III).

[44] N.H.R.S. § 644:8-aa(I).

[45] N.H.R.S. § 644:8-aa(II).

[46] N.H.R.S. § 644:8(II).

[47] N.J.S.A. § 4:22-17(a)(3).

[48] N.J.S.A. § 4:22-17(b)(1).

[49] N.J.S.A. § 4:22-17(e).