Have you heard that it’s illegal in some States to leave pets alone in cars?
Pets Left in Cars – When You’re the Only Human
When I heard a rumor that it’s illegal to leave pets alone in cars in California, I got worried. After all, I’m planning a dog road trip to California soon.
I’m single with two dogs. It’s hard to run dog-unfriendly errands without leaving them in the car (grocery shopping, hotel registering, using the facilities, …).
If I dog trip to California am I going to have to break the law?
Before hackles get raised about my putting dogs in danger by leaving them suffering in a hot car, understand that I am super careful about my dogs’ comfort and well being. With this story I am concerned with the legality of dogs in cars. Nonetheless, I continue to search for ways to keep my dogs safe and happy on road trips and welcome suggestions and tips.
16 States with a “Pets Alone in Cars” Laws
The 16 States
There are actually 16 states with laws about leaving pets unattended in cars.
|New Jersey||New York||North Carolina||North Dakota|
|Rhode Island||South Dakota||Vermont||West Virginia|
But none of them say that it’s illegal no matter what. The laws are reasonable, if maybe too lenient.
No one is going to arrest me if I leave dogs to run to the outhouse on a cool day.
The Language of the Law
Each States’ law language is similar to West Virginia’s short and sweet:
“Unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.”
Other States mention excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, etc. But the gist of it is that if the dogs are comfortable and safe in a vehicle then we’re fine.
For details, reference the Animal Legal and Historical Center website of Michigan State published 2014. This website includes links to each State’s Citation and a summary of what is Prohibited, Penalties and Rescue Provisions.
California as a Case Study
Even though it sounded like State Law was reasonable and that my standards for dogs’ wellbeing is much higher than the State’s, I still needed to dig into the legal details.
Just to be sure an angry mob wasn’t going to see my dogs in the car and take them away from me for negligence.
So, I dug around some more.
First I looked at the actual Penal Code that talks about pets in cars:
CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE SECTION 597.7, ENACTED BY SB 1806 (2006)
597.7. (a) No person shall leave or confine 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.
(the rest is mostly about punishments, and who and how pets can be rescued)
OK, we’re good so far. If my dogs were suffering I’d love for someone to rescue them.
But, the language was still a little too vague. Would someone else’s standards be different than mine? Is it possible that an interior degree of 70 Fahrenheit would cause someone else concern? Are bored looking dogs evidence of suffering?
I found more legal language surrounding Penal Code 597.7:
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:
SECTION 1. The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) Leaving companion animals unattended inside closed vehicles in the heat, even for short periods of time, has caused severe injury and death to animals.
(b) Moderately warm temperatures outside can quickly lead to deadly temperatures inside a closed car, for example, within one hour an outside temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit can cause unhealthful conditions inside a vehicle that can adversely affect the health, safety, or well-being of an animal.
(c) With the vehicle windows left slightly open, an outside temperature of 85 degrees can cause a temperature of 102 degrees inside a vehicle within 10 minutes, and 120 degrees within half of an hour. A healthy dog, whose normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees, can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 for only a short time before suffering brain damage or death.
OK, so I agree that we need to be super careful and that vehicles warm up faster and higher than we might even imagine. This bill seems to set the standard at the outside temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit being the point of alert. Is that true?
Again, I became paranoid again about that future trip to the outhouse.
Santa Barbara, CA is known to be a dog-friendly town.
So I called Santa Barbara’s Animal Control for clarification, figuring they’d thought long and hard about the law and the rescuing of dogs by now.
The gentleman officer at Animal Rescue said their guidelines were that if the temperature in a car was over 90 degrees they would start taking action (apparently the “action” is a long process…personally if it’s 90 degrees in the car I’d hope someone would break in and rescue my babies immediately.)
He said that if it’s not a hot day and the car is in shade with windows cracked open a couple inches then I should be fine.
Santa Barbara’s Animal Control’s answer is similar to that of the Sheriff’s Office in Scotts Valley, CA when asked by the Scotts Valley Patch “Can I Leave My Dog in the Car?”:
…Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter officers will remove an animal from a vehicle when the temperature inside the vehicle is 90 degrees or above, and the animal is exhibiting signs of lethargy, sickness or excessive panting. We use a reptile cage thermometer to measure the temperature…
So now I’m fairly confident I won’t get arrested in California and that my dogs won’t get confiscated. (although, I’m feeling sorry for those pets left in cars reaching 90 degrees)
However, there’s still the subject of:
Are my dogs really safe if I leave them alone in the car at any time or place?
After all, anything can happen that I can’t possibly foretell. I could run into a store only to slip, fall, become unconscious and get carted off to a hospital. Meanwhile my dogs are waiting endlessly in the car. Or, something unexpected causes high anxiety for my dogs and I’m completely unaware. Or …
Here are some precautions I’m considering:
- Emergency bracelet on my wrist, like a health alert bracelet, inscribed with “in emergency call 1-xxx-yyyy”. My emergency contact would be instructed to ensure the welfare of the dogs.
- Window screens so I can open windows wide open without worrying that the dogs will snap at a too-close passer-by (or someone reaching into the window to pet a big, snarling dog… amazingly I’ve actually witnessed this bizarre behavior from people.)
- Webcam streaming live video to my smart phone from inside my vehicle so I can keep a real-time eye on my dogs.
- Thermometer that reports the car’s interior temperature to my smart phone, alerting me when the heat gets to a certain temperature.
Am I paranoid?
Comments and words of wisdom are welcome!