Dogs In Hot Cars: Alabama-Georgia

Author: Simon Isham

Post 1 of 5.

Happy New Year everyone! This month, our JAEL Blog will feature a series written by 3L journal member Simon Isham. Simon's series dives into each states' laws regarding dogs being left in hot cars and the corresponding legal questions. The series consists of (5) blog posts running from today until the end of the month. Simon has broken up the states alphabetically and the blog posts follow ABC order. Be sure to check back weekly to read! 

Ultimately, the series will answer the following questions for each state:

  1. Can the dog be removed from the car?

    1. Is it legal in each state for a civilian to break into another person’s car in order to save a hot dog? If so, what steps must they follow? How do these steps differ among states?

    2. If not, is there anybody a civilian can call (e.g. police) who is empowered to break into the car? How do these authorized individuals differ among states?

  2. If not, can the owner be held accountable?

    1. If not, is leaving a dog in a hot car specifically made criminal in that state? If so, what is the punishment for violation? How do the punishments differ among states?

    2. If not, is there any other statute under which a person who leaves a dog in a hot car can be punished? How do the punishments differ among states?

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Alabama

Alabama currently has no law making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car, nor does it have a law allowing members of the public to break into a car to save an animal; however, in April 2017, House Bill 524[1] proposed to change this.

Although the law was indefinitely tabled in May,[2] if it does pass, it will allow civil immunity for those who break into a vehicle to save a suffering animal (or child). The bill specifically applies to "domestic animals," so those hoping to rescue a deer or a squirrel are not be protected; however, those wishing to help dogs, cats, and other pets would be immune from criminal and civil liability[3] so long as they:

  1. Have a good faith belief that the animal is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless it is removed from the vehicle.[4]
  2. Determine that the vehicle is locked and that forcible entry is necessary to enable the animal to be removed from the vehicle.[5]
  3. Notify the police, an Emergency Medical Service Provider, or Animal Control of the situation.[6] The Alabama bill does not specifically authorize the fire department to respond to this type of emergency.
  4. Do not use more force than he or she reasonably believes necessary under the circumstances to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.[7] 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. Wait with the animal until the emergency responder contacted in step 3 arrives at the vehicle.[8] The Alabama bill does not specifically allow, as some other states do, for the rescuer to move the animal out of the elements and away from the vehicle.
  6. Leave a note for the owner of the vehicle.[9] If the rescuer must leave the scene before the owner of the animal returns, the rescuer must leave a note including his or her name, phone number, reason the vehicle was broken into, and the location, if known, of the animal.

Note: The Alabama bill specifically excludes livestock.[10]

Note 2: This is still a proposed law and is not yet effective in Alabama.

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Alaska

Alaska currently has no law specifically making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot (or cold!) car, nor does it have a law allowing members of the public—to break into a car to save an animal.

This doesn't mean that pet owners in Alaska can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Alaska's animal cruelty statutes establish a minimum standard of care for animals, including a requirement that the owner provide "an environment compatible with protecting and maintaining the good health and safety of the animal."[11] An owner who fails to provide such an environment can be convicted of animal cruelty, which is a Class C felony, and can be restricted from owning any animals for a period of 10 years.[12]

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Arizona

Arizona's animal protection laws were updated in May of 2017 to allow for members of the general public to break into a vehicle to save a suffering animal (or a child).[13] The law specifically applies to "domestic animals," so those hoping to rescue a deer or a squirrel are not be protected; however, those wishing to help dogs, cats, and other pets[14] will be immune from criminal and civil liability so long as they:

  1. Have a good faith belief that the animal is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death unless it is removed from the vehicle.[15]
  2. Determine that the motor vehicle is locked and unattended, and that there is no reasonable manner in which the person can remove the animal from the vehicle besides breaking in.[16]
  3. Notify the police, an Emergency Medical Service Provider, or Animal Control of the situation.[17] The Arizona law does not specifically authorize the fire department to respond to this type of emergency.
  4. Do not use more force than is reasonably necessary under the circumstances to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.[18] 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. Wait with the animal until the emergency responder contacted in step 3 arrives at the vehicle.[19] The Arizona law does not specifically allow, as some other states do, for the rescuer to move the animal out of the elements and away from the vehicle.

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Arkansas

Arkansas currently has no law making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car, nor does it have a law allowing members of the public to break into a car to save an animal.

This doesn't mean that pet owners in Arkansas can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Alaska's animal cruelty statutes make it crime for a person to carry "in or upon any motorized vehicle or boat an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner."[20] A person found guilty of this offense faces a fine of up to $1,000, up to a year in prison, and must undergo psychiatric evaluation and counseling.[21]

Notably, Aranksas’ animal cruelty statutes do not restrict a neglectful pet owner’s right to own future animals.

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California

Prior to January, 2017, only police officers and animal control officers were permitted to "use all steps reasonably necessary to remove an animal from a motor vehicle" when the animal was in danger from a specific threat, such as heat, cold, lack of food, or lack of adequate ventilation.[22] Those officers were required to take the animal to an animal shelter or animal hospital for safekeeping and/or treatment, and to leave a note for the owner stating where the animal could be claimed.[23] The owner could only claim the animal after the owner paid all charges associated with the animal's treatment and care.[24]

As of this year, the above requirements were modified to allow members of the general public to break into a vehicle without civil or criminal liability so long as the following actions are taken, in this order:

  1. The person must reasonably believe that immediate action is necessary to prevent harm to the animal.[25] Although not specifically required by the statute for members of the general public, the would-be rescuer should make a reasonable effort to locate the animal's owner first if the animal does not appear to be suffering. This step is required of police and other emergency responders.
  2. The person must determine that the doors of the vehicle are in fact locked, that no windows are rolled down, and that there is no other reasonable means of liberating the animal from the hot (or cold) car except to break the window.[26]
  3. The person must contact law enforcement, the fire department, animal control, or 911 dispatch prior to breaking into the vehicle.[27]
  4. The person must use no more force than reasonably necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.[28] 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. The person must wait with the animal in a safe location until emergency responders arrive.[29] This location may be just outside the vehicle, in the rescuer's vehicle, under the shade of a tree or inside of a nearby building. When choosing a location to wait with the animal, the rescuer should consider places with a view of the owner's vehicle and the arrival of emergency responders.
  6. When law enforcement, the fire department, animal control, or other emergency responders arrive at the scene, the rescuer must immediately turn the animal over to them. [30]

Note: The California law specifically excludes livestock if the animals are in a vehicle that is specifically designed for the transportation of livestock.[31]

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Colorado

Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature passed a law allowing members of the public to break into a car to save an animal without criminal or civil liability. In order to take advantage of the immunity offered under the law, the following requirements must be satisfied:

  1. The animal must be a cat or a dog.[32] Other pets, such as ferrets or parakeets, as well as livestock animals, are not protected under this law.
  2. The vehicle cannot be a law enforcement vehicle.[33] Even police K-9's can be forgotten or neglected in hot cars. Since 2012, animal rights group PETA has kept track of deaths and injuries of working dogs left in unattended vehicles. Last year, it announced that this number was increasing.[34] Still, in order to take advantage of the immunity the Colorado law offers, would-be rescuers should make certain that the vehicle is not a marked or unmarked police car.
  3. The person must have a reasonable belief that the animal is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.[35]
  4. The person must determine that the vehicle is locked and that forcible entry is necessary.[36]
  5. The person must make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or operator of the vehicle, and must write down the color, make, model, license plate number and location of the vehicle.[37]
  6. The person must contact local police, the fire department, animal control, or a 911 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle.[38] The person must obey all orders from law enforcement personnel, even if those orders are to refrain from entering the vehicle until the police arrive.
  7. The person must not use more force than he or she reasonably believes necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.[39]
  8. The person must remain with the animal "reasonably close to the vehicle" until the emergency responder arrives.[40] The Colorado law does not specifically allow, as some other states do, for the rescuer to move the animal out of the elements.
  9. If the person must leave the scene before the owner of the vehicle returns, or before the emergency responder arrives, the person must place a note on the windshield of the vehicle including his or her name, contact information, and the name and contact information of the location to which the person took the animal. The person must also contact the emergency responder service contacted in step 6 and inform them of his or her name, contact information, that he or she is leaving the scene, and the location to which he or she is taking the animal.[41] This law, unlike those of many states, allows for the possibility that the animal is in critical condition and requires immediate medical attention that a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician is not trained to provide to an animal. Therefore, after leaving a note on the windshield of the owner's car and updating the en-route emergency responder to the situation, the rescuer is authorized to bypass the usual protocol and transport the suffering animal to a veterinary facility.

Note: The Colorado Law only applies to cats and dogs, and specifically does not include livestock.[42]

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Connecticut

Connecticut currently has no law making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car, nor does it have a law allowing members of the public to break into a car to save an animal.

This doesn't mean that pet owners in Connecticut can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. In Connecticut, a person is guilty of animal cruelty if he "fails to provide it with proper food, drink or protection from the weather."[43] Animal cruelty is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.[44]

Notably, Connecticut’s animal cruelty statutes do not restrict a neglectful pet owner’s right to own future animals.

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Delaware

In Delaware, it is a felony to leave an animal in a car that is so hot or cold that the temperature might cause injury to the animal.[45] Although members of the general public may not break into a car to liberate an animal from the heat or cold, a police officer, firefighter, or animal control officer may do so.[46] After attempting to contact the owner, the officer must leave a note bearing his name, contact information, and the address of the location where the animal can be claimed.[47] The officer can then take the animal to a veterinary facility.[48]

If the animal lives, the owner's first offense of this kind is punishable by a warning.[49] Punishment of any subsequent offenses depends on whether the animal lives or dies. If the animal lives, the owner will be prohibited from owning any animal for five years and will face a fine of $1,000.[50] If the animal dies, the owner will be prohibited from owning any animal for 15 years and a fine of $5,000.[51]

Note: The Delaware law specifically excludes livestock if the animals are in a vehicle that is specifically designed for the transportation of livestock.[52] Fish, mollusks, and crustaceans being transported in any type of vehicle are also excluded.[53]

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Florida

In early 2016, the Florida legislature passed a law granting immunity from civil liability to persons who break into vehicles to save suffering animals. The law specifically applies to "domestic animals," so those hoping to rescue a deer or a squirrel are not be protected.[54] Those wishing to help dogs, cats, and other domesticated household pets must:

  1. Have a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon the known circumstances, that entry into the motor vehicle is necessary because the animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.[55]
  2. Determine that the motor vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the animal to be removed.[56]
  3. Call 911 and notify police dispatch of the situation.[57] Unlike most other "good Samaritan" laws, Florida's statute allows a person to break into a car before calling the police, so long as they do so immediately after removing the animal. The Florida statute only specifically addresses informing law enforcement, and does not weigh in on whether calling a firefighter or animal control would suffice.
  4. Use no more force to enter the motor vehicle and remove the vulnerable person or domestic animal than is necessary.[58] 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 motor vehicle, until police arrive.[59] 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.

Note: The Florida law specifically excludes livestock.[60]

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Georgia

Georgia currently has no law making it a crime to leave an animal in a hot car, nor does it have a law allowing members of the public to break into a car to save an animal.

This doesn't mean that pet owners in Georgia can get away with animal cruelty and neglect scot-free, however. Georgia’s animal cruelty statute makes it a crime to fail “to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal's size, species, breed, age, and physical condition.”[61] If the neglect was accidental and this is the owner’s first offense, the owner may be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to one year.[62] If the neglect was intentional or the owner has one prior unintentional offense, the owner may be fined up to $15,000 and imprisoned between one and five years.[63] If the owner has prior intentional offenses, the owner may be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned between one and ten years.[64] The increasing punishments for repeat offenders make Georgia’s animal cruelty statute among the most severe in the nation. Notably, Georgia’s animal cruelty statutes do not restrict a neglectful pet owner’s right to own future animals.

Note: The Georgia statute does not include fish or “any pest that might be exterminated or removed from a business, residence, or other structure.”[65] The Georgia statute does not provide clarity on animals, such as mice, that can sometimes fall into the category of “pets” and sometimes into the category of “pests,” depending on context. This problem does not exist with goldfish, for example, because the statute categorically excludes “fish.”

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[1] Alabama House Bill 524 (2017).

[2] Oᴘᴇɴ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇꜱ, https://openstates.org/al/bills/2017rs/HB524/ (last visited Sep 12, 2017).

[3] Alabama H.B. 524 at § 1(a)(1).

[4] See supra at § 1(b)(1).

[5] See supra at § 1(b)(2).

[6] See supra at § 1(b)(3).

[7] See supra at § 1(b)(5).

[8] See supra at § 1(b)(4).

[9] See supra at § 1(c).

[10] See supra at § 1(a)(1).

[11] A.S. § 03.55.100(a)(2).

[12] A.S. § 11.61.140(h).

[13] A.R.S. § 12-558.02.

[14] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(C).

[15] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(A)(1).

[16] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(A)(2).

[17] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(A)(3).

[18] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(A)(4).

[19] A.R.S. § 12-558.02(A)(5).

[20] A.C.A. § 5-62-103(6).

[21] A.C.A. § 5-62-103.

[22] California Assembly Bill No. 797 (2016).

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(B).

[26] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(A).

[27] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(C).

[28] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(E).

[29] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(D).

[30] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(b)(2)(F).

[31] Cal. Pen. Code § 597.7(f).

[32] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(1)(a).

[33] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(a).

[34] Kevin Johnson, Pᴏʟɪᴄᴇ K-9ꜱ ɪɴᴄʀᴇᴀꜱɪɴɢʟʏ ᴅʏɪɴɢ ɪɴ ʜᴏᴛ ᴄᴀʀꜱ, USA Today (2016), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/10/05/police-k-9-dogs-deaths-hot-cars/91475906/ (last visited Sep 12, 2017).

[35] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(b).

[36] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(c).

[37] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(d).

[38] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(e).

[39] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(f).

[40] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(g)(I).

[41] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4(2)(g).

[42] C.R.S.A. § 13-21-108.4.

[43] C.G.S.A. § 53-247(a).

[44] C.G.S.A. § 53-247(c).

[45] Del.C. 11, § 1325(b)(6).

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Id.

[49] Del.C. 11, § 1325(g).

[50] Del.C. 11, § 1325(c).

[51] Del.C. 11, § 1325(d).

[52] Del.C. 11, § 1325(b)(6).

[53] Del.C. 11, § 1325(a)(2).

[54] F.S.A. § 768.139(1)(a).

[55] F.S.A. § 768.139(2)(b).

[56] F.S.A. § 768.139(2)(a).

[57] F.S.A. § 768.139(2)(c).

[58] F.S.A. § 768.139(2)(d).

[59] F.S.A. § 768.139(2)(e).

[60] F.S.A. § 768.139(1)(a).

[61] Ga. Code Ann., § 16-12-4(b)(2).

[62] Ga. Code Ann., § 16-12-4(c) and 17-10-3(a)(1).

[63] Ga. Code Ann., § 16-12-4(e).

[64] Id.

[65] Ga. Code Ann., § 16-12-4(a)(1) and (16-12-4(d)(5).