Choose Your Battles

Coming out of the grocery store, we were delighted to see this sight!

Click to enlarge the photo

I love that:

  • The driver brought his/her companion animal along.
  • Parked his four-legged friend in the shade, close to the door.
  • The driver provides goggles for a no-bugs-in-the-eyes ride for his/her buddy.

I’m usually an easygoing person, but there are a few things that raise my hackles. One of them is leaving an animal inside of a car on a hot day; I don’t care if the windows are cracked. 

On the Animal Legal Defense website, I learned that in the U.S. over half of the states have “hot car” laws (laws that prohibit leaving unattended animals in vehicles). 

Currently, twenty of these states have “hot car” laws that allow certain public officials (e.g., law enforcement, humane officers) to break into the vehicle to rescue the animal. They include Arizona, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

The following states have “Good Samaritan” hot car laws—laws that allow private citizens to take matters into their own hands—or proposed laws: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Alabama has a “hot car” bill pending.

Shame on New Jersey and West Virginia. In these states, although it is illegal to leave an animal trapped in a hot car, no one is granted the authority to break into the vehicle to save the animal, not even law enforcement.

My state, Idaho, doesn’t have any laws on the books about this one way or another, so I’ve decided it’s a “choose your battles” state. Breaking the window of a car to save an animal is a battle I’d gladly choose. 

Legal or not, would you break a car window on a hot day to save an animal? 


70 thoughts on “Choose Your Battles

  1. Hi Laurie,
    Yes – if an animal was clearly in distress, and I couldn’t easily break in (which is harder with modern cars than older ones) then the glass would go to save the animal.

  2. I would definitely do it to save them, if they were in distress. I’ve seen some people put a piece of paper in their window saying the AC is on, and the animal has seemed fine, but some are not as considerate towards their pets, which is a shame.

  3. Me too. I am now living in Spain and I am not sure what the laws are (although I live in a city and most people use public transport, so it’s unlikely to be much of an issue), but I will check. Thanks, Laurie.

  4. This issue has been making the news lately, so we can hope it will happen less and less. I would save an animal in distress, but I would choose my battles carefully. I once got reprimanded by a woman for leaving my dog in the car in the shade with the windows open (it wasn’t even a hot day) when I was stopping to run an errand where I would never be out of sight of the vehicle. People do rush to judgment these days . . .

  5. An important topic, Laurie, and a good reminder now that summer is fast approaching. As for whether I’d break the window? I hope I would, if the dog was in obvious distress. It’s not easy to break a car window, though. I’d need some sort of tool. I wonder what the penalty would be in those states with no laws? I’m in Vermont.

    • Janet — Here’s the scoop about Vermon according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund:

      Title 13 : Crimes And Criminal Procedure

      Chapter 008 : Humane And Proper Treatment Of Animals

      Subchapter 007 : Transportation Of Animals

      (Cite as: 13 V.S.A. § 386)
      § 386. Confinement of animals in vehicles

      (a) A person shall not leave an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.

      (b) Any humane officer or member of a fire and rescue service may use reasonable force to remove any such animal from a motor vehicle. The officer so removing an animal shall deliver the animal to a humane society, veterinarian or town or municipal pound. If the owner of the animal cannot be found, the officer shall place a written notice in the vehicle, bearing the name of the officer and the department and address where the animal may be claimed. The owner shall be liable for reasonable expenses, and a lien may be placed on the animal for these expenses. The officer may not be held liable for criminal or civil liability for any damage resulting from actions taken under subsection (a) of this section.

      (c) Failure to comply with subsection (a) of this section is a violation of subdivision 352(3) of this title. (Added 1989, No. 270 (Adj. Sess.), § 2; amended 2003, No. 120 (Adj. Sess.), § 12.)

  6. It would depend on the dog. If the dog looked like it would be ferocious and uncontrollable, one might have a bigger battle on one’s hands to break the window, which would undoubtedly raise the dog’s hackles even more. I think I would call 911 if I thought the dog was really in distress.

    • Melodie — You’re right. If I thought the animal would harm me after trying to save it, I’d probably call 911 first. I’d also take a photo of the license plate in the event they left before help arrived.

  7. People DO rush to judgment these days, so a note in the windshield, “The dog/cat/llama has a water bowl down there on the floor, and I will be RIGHT back,” would help. If in obvious distress, I would first try to quickly find the owner, secondly call the cops; were it a baby or child, however, I’d gladly break the window after calling 911.

      • I’ve actually seen one! Sure, write or print one, laminate it, stick it in the window for just such occasions. I know that people mean well, but sometimes some mean TOO well. Also, similarly, one of our neighbors left a large note on his apartment door saying the cat (always out front, always pettable) is not dead nor even dying — just old, and loves to be outside and loves our attention, and there’s food and water on the top step. I honestly appreciated that!

  8. I’m with “Relax,” just above: helping an animal in distress by calling law enforcement but using more drastic measures if a baby or child were trapped in the car.

  9. I couldn’t do that in Ghana here, no matter how distressed the animal is. A child perhaps, or a human being, then I would be justified, but an animal? That is another matter. I really do not know hat the laws say here. 🙂

  10. I’d probably try to find the owner in the store closest to the parked car and adjacent stores if necessary. In a residential area, try the closest houses. If no luck, I’d call 9-1-1 Too many crazy people with attack dogs who may take offense at my trying to “help.” A thorny moral dilemma, indeed.

  11. I think I would go with Relax, unless the animal looked too far gone to wait for authorities to help. My dog likes to go with me, but she only gets to do that when the weather is cool or I’m doing something like just dropping something off at the post office so I’d be in and out in a minute.

  12. I would wait by the car a bit to see if the owner would be back soon before doing anything drastic. Calling the authorities would be my next step. I’m not strong enough to break a car window anyway.

  13. when I was doing an internship with the Sheriff’s Department I was called out for several children left strapped into a hot car…the officer in charge both times broke the window and the EMT’s started treating the child right away.
    I read a wonderful book called A DOG’S PURPOSE which dealt with a puppy being rescued from a hot truck parked by a bar….excellent story. Movie not as good
    I do not know what I would do about an animal, but taking a picture of the license plate and calling 911 would be a good plan. Breaking windows tough to do…the police have a breaking tool, which folks can get…made for if the car is submerged in water. Hot weather important issue.

    I am trying not to take on many battles right now…just meditating on the positive. I am hating seeing an antique bush rose being abused for the past 2 years and now is being overcome by Morning Glory (the invasive weed) It is such a stunning color – I don’t like seeing anything abandoned or abused. (I spent a lot of years working for abused and sexually abused children, I think I am rather burned out and get overwhelmed)

  14. ABSOLUTELY, NO DOUBT. And, I’d call 911. And if the driver arrived while I was waiting for the cops, I’d give him/her a piece of my mind in front as many people as I could. I don’t understand why humane/necessary laws like providing safety to animals are not written in bold in EVERY state.

  15. I would totally do it!. Such an interesting post. Great to learn that half of the States have “hot car” laws… Sending love & best wishes, dear Laurie 🙂 ❤

  16. Sure, I’d break out a car window to save a pet in distress. I’d probably miss a couple of times due to pet traumatic stress and maybe take out a side view mirror and a door panel in the process. Opps … sorry.

    I did once come upon a child locked in a car in front of a Wal Mart (engine running) about the same time as an off-duty fireman (he was fuming). I decided to keep the firefighter company while he waited for what turned out to be a young mother jogging out from the store. It was well worth the wait. Fireworks in July were not this good.

  17. Laurie, I was astonished to see that Georgia has no “Hot Car” law on the books, considering we had at least 2 high-profile court cases concerning the death of children in unattended cars in recent years. I can make a very loud racket if necessary and if I can’t raise some responsible soul in a few minutes time…well, a person’s got to do what they’ve got to do. I would take out one of the back door windows though, windshields are just too big and all you need to do is get a hand in to unlock the door. I do know people will make every kind of excuse for the “Why” they left the dog, all bad, they should not have left the dog period. The dog is safer at home than with a careless owner a-broad. I can’t imagine that I would have much trouble taking out a car window, not to save a life. Bricks aren’t that hard to find…..

  18. YES! Yes ! Yes! And more yeses . I can’t tell you the ‘ heated ‘ rows I have had with people over this issue . Never forced open a car window to get an animal out, but I know someone who has, but I would , without a shadow of a doubt .
    Supermarket car parks 😱. I storm in for the manager and do not leave till the idiot , potential murder returns .
    What is wrong with people Laurie , they need to try it in a hot car for a few moments I know because it happened to me .
    My husband , by accident , went to pay for a pitch at a camp site and locked the car with me in it , It was when central locking was first the norm …believe me I banged on the widows like a mad woman and I was only left for a couple of minutes but I’ve never forgot .

  19. Yes, I would and I have seen people leave children in hot cars too. I’d break a window for any innocent creature being abused. Thanks for sharing.

  20. This also reminded me of another (opposite end) problem ~ the cold. People who leave their kids or their pets inside a cold car – or inside a running car in the cold. Certainly not as big of an issue but I have come upon it and am always just as shocked as when someone leaves a baby or pet in the car in the heat. I will always put my heart out front and lead with that – meaning, I would break a window, call police, report people or whatever it takes to make people understand what HUMANE means!! Love this post that you have written!

    • Kristy — I appreciate you sharing the opposite end of the spectrum; it’s extremely important too. The bottom line, as you pointed out, is being HUMANE, regardless of the circumstance. Amen siSTAR!

  21. I have a different perspective on this than most folks because we lived in a Tiny House with no yard which meant we had to take our sweet little dog with us everywhere we went. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take her with us every single place, so sometimes we had to leave her in the car. One time I came back from a fast trip into the grocery store in a 74 degree day to find a posh elderly lady in her cute little sweater wringing her hands and leaning in close to my car window. She seemed to be wailing something about how upset my dog was… and she was only inches from the glass of my car – peering at Ella – who was going NUTS!! A police officer stood beside her. I came up and confronted them as I put my grocery bag in the trunk and asked why she was provoking my dog? The affronted Ms Posh in her cute little sweater quickly climbed into her waiting Cadillac SUV (engine running, air on full blast) and sped away. She spent all of her life in AC so she had no idea that it wasn’t actually HOT outside.

    The officer and I talked for a while, and all was well, no problem. He was dressed up in his head-to-toe black uniform with flack jacket and the whole nine yards – he was hot! lol! It didn’t help that I was driving an extremely rare vintage auto that probably looked like a junker to Ms Posh. I cried and cried that day. I was so devastated that someone could come up and provoke my dog and then use her natural protective response as proof to an officer that she was “in distress”. Thankfully the officer was a reasonable kind of guy and didn’t go bashing up my antique car, but that situation could have gone badly.

    One time we went to a hardware store and my husband happened to park next to a car with a beautiful chow in it. He went inside to find something and I stayed in the car with Ella. Only Ella happened to see the gorgeous dog in the other car and started barking like crazy. After a while I had enough and got out of the car because it was deafening. I wandered inside, found my husband and thanked him for parking next to the chow (lol!) and walked back outside to find an officer pulling up. Whoever had made that call about “a distressed dog” must have been dialing their phone while I was still in the car sitting beside my noisy dog. They hadn’t bothered to look around and see why my dog was “distressed”. People are funny.

    We were traveling for work and went to a restaurant, and asked the waitress to be seated at the table at the window where we could watch our dog in the truck at the curb right outside. I was happily munching and watching my dog as she quietly watched people walk past on the sidewalk without a peep. A guy came by and reached up and tapped the glass near her nose and she went bazerk! She surprised me with how vicious she looked and the guy jumped and backed away and everyone with him laughed. I jumped also! I wasn’t expecting her to react that way!! My sweet little cuddle-bug of a dawg looked pretty scary! Hilarious!

    The windows of my car are always open when she’s inside, it’s not difficult to reach in and unlock the door. Are you going to reach in there and open the door? If she’s in actual distress, she’ll let you. If she’s not in actual distress… “choose your battles” is precisely the advice you’ll need!! Good Luck. ❤

  22. Hi Laurie I love your love and care for these pretty ones . I think I would also break a window just to save this innocent animals – How you justify your claim is just AMAZING .Your passion is great !!!Loving your blog.

  23. I’m really ashamed of my home state of New Jersey, and frankly I wasn’t even aware of that law. To answer your question, I’ll offer up these figures, ha! We own: a pug and a Labrador retriever, three cats, a guinea pig, a tortoise, a parakeet, an Amazon parrot and recently a rooster, which we rescued from certain destruction!!

    I’d smash that window in two seconds flat!

  24. I would call the police immediately. However, if the dear fur person seemed to be in extreme distress I must say I might not wait for the police to arrive before doing whatever I could to get that window open! “Whatever it takes.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.