It’s something that happens all too often: you’re walking through a parking lot on a hot summer day only to see a parked car, windows rolled all the way up, with a pitiful looking dog panting desperately for some relief in the heat. If the heartless person who rushed in “for just a minute” had left a kid in the car, then your course of action would be clear. You would be within your legal rights to break the window and help rescue the child. However, if you break the window for an animal, most states will hold you legally responsible for the damage. Instead, you are expected to call the police and then wait as the animal slowly dies in the car that is quickly becoming an oven. However, a bill that is being considered by the Florida Senate would allow you to help the animal directly without fear of prosecution.
To put this into some perspective, a study by San Francisco University in 2007 shows just how hot a car’s interior can become when it gets hot outside (http://thedarlingdogcompany). If the heat reaches 100 degrees outside, then the inside of the car with all of the windows rolled up will be 117 degrees. Many people think it is acceptable to leave an animal in a car if the windows are rolled down or cracked. This study showed that if the temperature is 101 degrees outside, then a car with the windows rolled down will still reach 114 degrees. This is certainly enough to kill an animal in a matter of moments.
Senator Dorothy Hukill (Republican) introduced a bill in the Florida Senate called Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety Act. As part of this bill, a person who sees a pet locked in a hot car would be allowed to “use reasonable force” to free the animal. This would include breaking the window with a hammer or some other instrument to release the pet. If a person were to do this, they would be treated as a “Good Samaritan,” under the law and would not be held liable in criminal or civil courts. However, the person who left the animal in the car could be prosecuted for animal cruelty.
The bill will not give a person carte blanche to break into someone’s vehicle at will. If a person sees a pet in a locked car, they must first try to find the pet’s owner. After that, they must call the police, fire department, 911, or some other law enforcement agency to report the animal. An agent from one of those departments must then give the person the “go-ahead” to break the window and extricate the animal. In addition, the bill only covers domestic animals such as cats and dogs. Farm animals and livestock are exempt from the bill. Many animal rights groups, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Society of the United States, are calling on the Senate to pass the bill, but with new language that would protect all animals, regardless of their classification.
Until this bill passes, it is still illegal in the state of Florida to break a car’s window to protect a suffering animal. If you have been involved in such an incident and need legal advice as to your rights, please contact the offices of Wolf & Pravato for a consultation.