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Yes, It's Legal To Break Into A Hot Car To Rescue A Trapped Animal

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Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images
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A state bill signed into law last September (and which went into effect in January) provides immunity to individuals who break into a vehicle to save an animal from overheating.

During a Tuesday press conference, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer reminded the public of the dangers of leaving a pet in a closed car, even for a few minutes.

"The facts are so clear: It takes just 15 minutes for an animal to suffer brain damage when temperatures soar on a hot summer day in a parked vehicle," Feuer said. "Cracking a window open doesn’t do nearly enough to cool your car down sufficiently."

But this isn't to say that you can walk around a parking lot and just start smashing windows and pulling dogs out of cars. According to the Right To Rescue Act, which amended California Penal Code 597.7, the immunity stands only if you have "contacted a local law enforcement agency, the fire department, animal control, or the '911' emergency service prior to forcibly entering the vehicle." Furthermore, once you've rescued the animal, you must remain with it "in a safe location," and then hand the animal "over to a representative from law enforcement, animal control, or another emergency responder who responds to the scene." Basically, this doesn't become de facto adoption.

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The law also defines legal punishment for pet owners who leave their animals in the vehicle.

"This isn’t only a health and safety issue for your pet, it’s a legal issue, too," Feuer continued. "Leaving your companion animal in a parked car in the heat of the day is against the law, and can lead to serious animal cruelty charges, fines, even jail."

"Unless the animal suffers great bodily injury," the law states, first time offenders will be charged a fine for the act of animal cruelty. Should the animal suffer bodily harm, the owner will be punished with a larger fine and possible jail time. Repeat offenders will also face a combination of fines and jail time.

"We're very excited about the lives this new law will save," Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga who co-sponsored the bill with Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said in a statement. "Thank you to everyone who helped us raise awareness of this serious issue and showed their support."