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Is it Illegal to Leave Your Pet Alone in the Car?

Is it illegal to leave pets alone in the car?Is leaving your pet in a parked car illegal? For people traveling alone with their dog or cat, it’s an important question. And as you might expect, the answer depends on where you are, and the conditions under which your pet is left in the vehicle.

The laws concerning pets in extremely hot or cold vehicles are evolving quickly, so we’ve updated this older post to reflect the most current information available as of  May 2017.

Laws have been enacted to help prevent the tragic deaths of animals left in parked vehicles – and rightly so. Every year pets die needlessly because their owners didn’t understand the dangers. If you haven’t seen the video Dr. Ernie Ward did a couple years ago where he sat in a parked car on a summer day, watch it now. Spoiler: the car reaches 117 degrees within 30 minutes with all four windows opened 1 to 2 inches.

It’s simple to say that we should all leave our pets at home while we run errands on days when the temperature isn’t conducive to taking them along – but what if you’re traveling alone with your dog or cat? Maybe this is a cross-country move and you’ve decided to drive rather than put your cat on a plane. Or perhaps you’re off on a road trip adventure … the kind no dog would want to miss.

On those types of trips, you may have no choice but to leave your pet unattended while you use the facilities at a rest stop, or run in to pick up a sandwich at a deli. If that’s your situation, here’s what you need to know about state laws prohibiting pets from being left unattended in vehicles from the Animal Legal and Historical Center:

Arizona prohibits leaving animals unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.

California prohibits leaving or confining an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.

Delaware prohibits confining an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in which the temperature is either so high or so low that it endangers the health or safety of the animal.

Illinois prohibits confining any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places it in a life or health threatening situation by exposure to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.

Maine‘s law is violated when an animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation, and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering or death.

Maryland prohibits leaving a cat or dog in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers their health or safety.

Massachusetts prohibits leaving an animal in a motor vehicle when it could reasonably be expected that the health of the animal could be threatened due to extreme heat or cold.

Minnesota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.

Nevada prohibits leaving a cat or dog unattended in a parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold, or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.

New Hampshire laws states that the definition of cruelty is met when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is either so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal.

New Jersey prohibits leaving animals unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.

New York prohibits leaving pets confined in motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection, where confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious injury due to exposure.

North Carolina‘s law is violated when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or under other endangering conditions.

North Dakota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a stationary or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.

Rhode Island‘s law states that no owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle which is done in a manner that places the animal in a life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.

South Dakota prohibits leaving pets unattended in a standing or parked vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of such animal.

Vermont prohibits leaving an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.

Washington prohibits leaving or confining any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.

West Virginia prohibits leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.

In addition to these states, many counties municipalities have passed similar laws – too many for us to track nationwide. And even in places where the laws don’t specifically mention pets in vehicles, leaving an animal in unsafe circumstances could result in animal cruelty charges.

What’s the common theme running through all these statutes? They’re targeting the unknowing or careless endangerment of an animal’s life – something no loving pet owner would ever do purposely! So if you are traveling alone with your pet, here are some steps you can take to ensure their safety and keep you from running afoul of these laws:

  1. Park in the shade.
  2. Use a sunscreen for your windshield to block as much sunlight as possible.
  3. Have a remote-start system installed in your car so you can leave the air conditioning or heat running to keep the interior temperature comfortable for your pet. Another option would be to carry an extra key – one that you can leave in the ignition with the car running, and a second you can use to unlock the door when you return. Always set your parking brake if you leave your pet in a running vehicle. (Note that leaving an unattended vehicle running may violate the law in some jurisdictions, as it may encourage auto theft.)
  4. Get a spill-proof bowl for the car and keep it full so that your pet always has access to fresh water.
  5. Anytime you leave your pet alone in the car, set the alarm on your phone for 10 minutes and return immediately to check on your pet when the alarm sounds.
Ty in Sleepypod Harness

Finally, despite the fact that many more pets are killed in car accidents each year than perish in hot cars, the campaign for buckling up our pets hasn’t received the same attention. Before you hit the road with your best friend, make sure they’ll not only be protected from extreme temperatures, but that they’ll also be secured in a carrier or car harness.

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