Stories of pets perishing in sweltering cars cause heartbreak and outrage each summer. 16 U.S. states have laws on the books allowing authorities to break into vehicles to save innocent dogs, but the power for average citizens to take matters into their own hands is relatively new and less widespread.
Thanks to public outcry, lawmakers in 5 states have finally made it legal for concerned citizens to do something about this tragic trend. Good Samaritans may now rescue animals from hot vehicles without fear of being prosecuted for the damages in Florida, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Vermont, and, come August – Ohio. Let’s take a closer look at the laws in each of these states.
Tennessee was the first state to decriminalize the rescue of dogs from hot vehicles. With the passage of House Bill 537 – an extension of the state’s Good Samaritan Law – citizens who damage personal property in order to save an animal from a hot vehicle became free to do so without fear of civil liability. The trendsetting bill went into effect over a year ago on July 1, 2015.
Since every second counts in these emergencies, animals perished or were severely injured while awaiting rescue from law enforcement. Now, Tennessee pups in peril can be legally rescued through a broken window as long as authorities are called, the vehicle is determined to be locked, and the rescuer waits with the animal until help arrives.
Made official on March 8, 2016 the Florida House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 131. According to the Florida Senate website, The Unattended Persons and Animals in Motor Vehicles Bill “provides immunity from civil liability for damage to a motor vehicle related to the rescue of a person or animal under certain circumstances; providing applicability, etc.”
In plain English this means that if you witness an animal or a vulnerable human (like a child or mentally impaired adult) trapped in a hot car in Florida, you may break a window in order to rescue them. Before you start smashing, be sure to check that all doors are locked and the pet or person is in distress. You must also call authorities and wait with the vehicle until help arrives.
Wisconsin’s law was signed into effect by Governor Scott Walker in November 2015 and is quite similar to Florida’s law. According to animallaw.info, it states that “a person is immune from civil liability for property damage or injury resulting from his or her forcible entry into a vehicle to rescue an animal or person as long as the following conditions are met:
- The person must have a “good faith belief” that the person or domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm and use no more force than necessary to remove the person or animal.
- That person must first determine the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is necessary, and that person must dial 911 or other emergency services prior to this action.
- In addition, the person must wait with the person or animal until emergency services arrive or leave information on the vehicle’s windshield as described in the law.”
The latest state to jump on the smashing pups out of hot cars bandwagon is Vermont. Their law makes ‘Forcible Entry of Motor Vehicles for Rescue Purposes’ legal for all citizens, not just law enforcement. It went into effect two weeks ago on July 1, 2016. The stipulations of Vermont’s law are similar to those of Florida, Tennessee and Wisconsin’s laws:
- Be sure the animal or child is in immediate danger
- Make sure the car is, in fact, locked
- Call the police
- Stay with the child or pet in a safe location until help arrives, or
- Leave a note on the vehicle
- Use no more force than necessary
Ohio will join the victorious ranks of US states where citizens are free to rescue kids and pups without fear of legal ramifications next month. The bill was signed into law in May 2016 by Governor John Kasich and will go into effect August 29. Like the states above, the bill is similar to a Good Samaritan law in that citizens will be free from prosecution if they cause damages while rescuing a pet or vulnerable hooman from a sweltering vehicle.
Although these 5 states are the only ones who have currently made their laws official, don’t be discouraged. Many other states are working on similar bills, including California, Michigan and Massachusetts. If your state’s laws regarding rescuing dogs from hot cars aren’t up to par, consider contacting the folks in control and urging them to make a change for the love of Dog!
Remember, when the summer heat sets in, pups are safest at home with the A/C blastin’. As much as we love being with our furry BFFs 24/7, it isn’t worth risking their lives.
Featured Image via @Sav789/Instagram