Is it Legal to Break Into a Hot Car to Save an Animal’s Life?

As temperatures soar, the danger of leaving pets in locked vehicles becomes critical. Recent cases of K-9 officers succumbing to heat-related illnesses underscore the urgency of the issue. Denver Animal Protection has already received 323 calls this year reporting dogs trapped in vehicles during extreme heat.

Authorities stress that cracking a window does little to mitigate the heat inside a car. Pet owners who leave animals in hot cars can face severe penalties for animal cruelty. However, if you encounter an animal trapped in these conditions, there are steps you can take to help. Start by alerting animal control or the police. In emergencies, you are legally permitted to break into the vehicle to rescue the distressed pet.

Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion or stroke in dogs is crucial. Symptoms include: 

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Glazed eyes
  • Rapid pulse
  • Vomit, diarrhea, and/or bloody nose
  • Purple, or deep red, dry tongue
  • Body temps over 103 degrees 

The Humane Society advises immediate veterinary attention and offers tips for cooling down the animal until help arrives, such as:

  • Moving the animal to a cool area
  • Applying COOL water to the neck, paws, groin, arm pits, and ear flaps, or soaking the animal in a cool (NOT COLD) bath
  • Fanning wet areas to expedite cooling
  • Offering the animal cool water if they will take it

Legislation in Colorado protects individuals who render emergency aid to at-risk animals trapped in hot cars. This law grants immunity from liability provided certain steps are followed to ensure the safety of the distressed party, such as:

  • Confirming that the vehicle is not a law enforcement vehicle
  • Having a reasonable belief that the animal inside is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury due to the extreme conditions
  • Ensuring the vehicle is securely locked
  • Making a reasonable effort to locate the owner or operator of the vehicle
  • Contacting law enforcement or another first responder agency before taking any action to enter the vehicle
  • Using only the necessary force to enter the locked vehicle
  • Staying with the at-risk animal in a safe place near the vehicle until law enforcement or another first responder gets to the scene. If you must leave before the vehicle’s owner returns, leave a written notice on the vehicle with your name, contact information, and details of where the animal has been taken. Also, notify law enforcement, animal control, or another first responder agency with the same information before leaving.

To prevent emergencies, authorities emphasize never leaving people or pets unattended in a hot car.

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