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

Is it illegal to leave your pets alone in parked cars?

For people traveling alone with their dog or cat, that’s an important question. But it’s not an easy answer. You must consider the location and conditions where you park.

Bulldog smiling in a car

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Laws Protecting Pets

Jurisdictions are enacting laws to prevent the tragic deaths of pets left in parked cars. And rightly so. Every year pets die needlessly because their owners were unaware of the dangers. If you haven’t seen the video of veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward 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.

 

Practicalities of Taking Pets Along

It’s simple to say that we should all leave our pets at home while we run errands. But what if you’re traveling alone with your dog or cat?

Maybe you’re making a cross-country move, and you’d rather drive than put your cat on a plane. Or perhaps it’s a cross-country 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 for a short time. Knowing the law and taking precautions will ensure you don’t end up with a ticket.

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State Laws Protecting Pets In Parked Vehicles

The laws concerning pets in extremely hot or cold vehicles are evolving quickly. We’ll keep you updated to the best of our ability!

If your situation requires you to leave your pet alone in your vehicle, here’s what you need to know about the state laws from the Animal Legal and Historical Center:

Approximately 28 states have laws that deal with animals left in vehicles. Under most of these laws, a person must have confined an unattended animal in a parked vehicle. Additionally, the conditions have to endanger the animal’s life to result in a violation.

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 the animal’s 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 defines cruelty as confining an animal 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.

 

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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 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 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! Even in places without laws specifically mentioning pets in vehicles, leaving animals in unsafe circumstances could constitute animal cruelty.

 

“Rescue Laws” Protect People Who Enter Cars to Save a Pet

Law enforcement or other individuals may rescue animals left under extreme conditions according to some state laws. This may include forcibly entering the vehicle to remove the trapped animal.

Pit bull - Dog in Car

The majority of states only allow authorities to enter a vehicle to rescue a pet. These personnel include law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers.

However, 12 states have laws allowing any person to rescue a distressed animal. The states are: AZ, CA, CO, FL, IN, KS, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI. Laws in these jurisdictions limit the liability for damages resulting from the forcible entry of the vehicle. Indiana is the only state requiring a person who forcibly enters a vehicle to pay half the damages.

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Siamese cat laying on a white comforter

Keep Your Pets Safe

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!

These tips will help you ensure your pets’ safety and keep you from violating the law:

  1. Only consider leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle when weather conditions would not endanger your pet’s health.
  2. Park in the shade.
  3. Use a sunscreen for your windshield to block as much sunlight as possible.
  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. Return immediately when the alarm sounds to check on your pet.
  6. Utilize a pet temperature monitor, so you are always aware of the temperature inside your vehicle. These monitors will also send you text alerts if the environment becomes uncomfortable for your pet.
  7. Have a remote-start system installed in your car, or carry a spare key. This will allow you to leave the air conditioning or heat running. 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.)

 

Don’t Forget to Buckle Up

Pets die far more frequently in car accidents each year than in hot cars. Yet, 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’re secured in a crash-tested carrier or car harness. Remember, the most important part of any pet friendly trip is coming home together safely.

Click to learn about the pet safety harnesses we use to keep Ty and Buster safe!

Ty the Shar-pei from GoPetFriendly.cm buckled into a seat belt using a Sleepypod pet safety harness

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  • Sonal says:

    Maryland prohibits leaving a cat or dog in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.” What exactly does ” in manner that endangers ” mean? My dog loves car rides and I like to take him. I only take him when temperature is in 50 or max in 60’s and only if I’m away for 10 or 15 min. Given windows are partially down and car is parked in a shade. Is this against the law? In Maryland? Where can I find details on which manners are considered ilegal? Thanks

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Sonal! I completely understand your frustration. Unfortunately, “in a manner that endangers” is open to interpretation by the police officer or other authority. My advice is to continue doing what you’re doing. You’re already considering the temperature, parking in the shade, and not leaving your dog for more than a few minutes. The only thing you might want to add is a bowl of water for your pup. In those circumstances, I can’t see how any reasonable person would conclude that your pet is “endangered.” Safe travels!

      • M. Dukeminier says:

        Post your pet plan in bullet points and contact information on a piece of paper taped to the window. Then the concerned person knows you are aware and actively involved in your pet’s safety.

  • Patricia says:

    NO DOG OR CAT OR ANY PET YOU MAY HAVE SHOULD BE LEFT ALONE IN A CAR PENNSYLVANIA DOES NOT HAVE THAT LAW WHY AN WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT

  • Michelle says:

    This article DOES NOT ADDRESS the meaning of UNATTENDED. I think this a crucial point that should have been covered.

    • Amy at GoPetFriendly.com says:

      Hi Michelle. My understanding of the laws as they stand is that unattended means there is no human present in/at the vehicle. I hope that helps!

  • Uwe says:

    Tesla cars now have a “Dog mode” that will keep the car at a pre set temperature, and being electric there is no engine running during this process. The display inside the car alerts passersby that the pet is safe inside.

  • Al Mangarelli Great suggestion, Al – thank you!

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