Updated: September 15, 2021
Is it illegal to leave your pets in parked cars? For people traveling alone with their dog or cat, that’s an important question. But it’s not an easy answer. You must consider the location and conditions where you park.
Laws Protecting Pets
Jurisdictions are enacting laws to prevent the tragic deaths of pets left in parked cars. And rightly so. Every year pets die needlessly because their owners were unaware of the dangers. If you haven’t seen the video of veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward in a parked car on a summer day, watch it now.
Spoiler: the car reaches 117 degrees within 30 minutes with all four windows opened 1 to 2 inches.
Practicalities of Taking Pets Along
It’s simple to say that we should all leave our pets at home while we run errands. But what if you’re traveling alone with your dog or cat?
Maybe you’re making a cross-country move, and you’d rather drive than put your cat on a plane. Or perhaps it’s a road trip adventure … the kind no dog would want to miss.
On those types of trips, you may have to leave your pet in parked cars for a short time. Knowing the law and taking precautions will ensure you don’t end up with a ticket.
State Laws Protecting Pets In Parked Vehicles
The laws concerning pets in extremely hot or cold vehicles are evolving quickly. We’ll keep you updated to the best of our ability!
You might be in a situation that requires you to leave your pet alone in your vehicle. Here’s what you need to know about the state laws from the Animal Legal and Historical Center:
In the U.S., 19 states have laws dealing with pets in parked cars. Under most of these laws, a violation occurs only when a person confines an unattended animal in a parked vehicle and the conditions endanger the animal’s life.
Laws by State
Arizona prohibits leaving animals unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.
California prohibits leaving or confining 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.
Delaware prohibits confining an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in which the temperature is either so high or so low that it endangers the health or safety of the animal.
Illinois prohibits confining any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places it in a life or health threatening situation by exposure to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
Maine‘s law is violated when an animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation, and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering or death.
READ MORE ⇒ Tips for Traveling Alone with Pets
Maryland prohibits leaving a cat or dog in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.
Massachusetts prohibits leaving an animal in a motor vehicle when it could reasonably be expected that the health of the animal could be threatened due to extreme heat or cold.
Minnesota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the dog’s or cat’s health or safety.
Nevada prohibits leaving a cat or dog unattended in a parked or standing motor vehicle during a period of extreme heat or cold, or in any other manner that endangers the health or safety of the cat or dog.
New Hampshire laws defines cruelty as confining an animal in a motor vehicle or other enclosed space in which the temperature is either so high or so low as to cause serious harm to the animal.
READ MORE ⇒ State Laws Require Pets to Buckle Up
New Jersey prohibits leaving animals unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the living animal or creature.
New York prohibits leaving pets confined in motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection, where confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious injury due to exposure.
North Carolina‘s law is violated when an animal is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or other endangering conditions.
North Dakota prohibits leaving a dog or cat unattended in a stationary or parked motor vehicle in a manner that endangers the animal’s health or safety.
Rhode Island‘s law states that no owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that places the animal in a life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold.
READ MORE ⇒ Planning A Cross-Country Road Trip With Pets
South Dakota prohibits leaving pets unattended in a standing or parked vehicle in a manner that endangers the health or safety of such animal.
Vermont prohibits leaving an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal.
Washington prohibits leaving or confining any animal unattended in a motor vehicle or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.
West Virginia prohibits leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result.
In addition to state law, many counties and municipalities have passed similar laws regarding pets in parked cars.
And even when there aren’t specific laws mentioning pets in vehicles, leaving animals in unsafe circumstances could violate state and municipal animal cruelty regulations.
What Should You Do If You See Pets In Parked Cars?
If you notice a pet in a parked car and you’re concerned for its safety, there are a few things you can do. First, after briefly observing the pet, move away from the vehicle. Many dogs will become agitated when strangers approach them. Any excitement or barking you instigate could cause the dog’s temperature to increase and put him in further danger.
Next, consider the pet’s condition:
- Can you tell if the car is running and the air conditioning is on?
This can be difficult to determine with electric cars, because you can’t hear them run. From a distance, look to see if there is condensation dripping under the car from the air conditioner.
- Is the pet showing signs of dehydration or heat stroke?
Make sure you can recognize the symptoms of dehydration & heat stroke in dogs before making this assessment!
Panting does not necessarily indicate that a pet is too hot. If he’s looking out the windows, wagging his tail, or barking, he’s probably not in immediate danger.
Finally, consider what action is in the pet’s best interest. Entering a vehicle could allow the pet to escape. Or it might cause him to bite you, which could be painful for you, but have dire consequences for him.
If it’s necessary for the pet to be removed from the vehicle, call the local authorities before proceeding. Some states have “Rescue Laws” to protect people who forcibly enter a vehicle to save a pet. However, the majority of states only allow authorized personnel, like law enforcement officers, fire fighters, animal control officers, and first responders, to remove pets from parked cars.
Keep Your Pets Safe
All the state statutes regarding pets in parked cars have a common theme. The lawmakers are trying to prevent the unknowing or careless endangerment of an animal’s life. That’s something no loving pet owner would ever do purposely!
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These tips will help you keep your pets safe and keep you on the right side of the law:
- Only consider leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle when you’re certain the weather conditions will not endanger your pet’s health.
- Park in the shade.
- Use a sunscreen for your windshield to block as much sunlight as possible.
- Get a spill-proof bowl for the car and keep it full so that your pet always has access to fresh water.
- Anytime you leave your pet alone in the car, set the alarm on your phone for 10 minutes. Return immediately when the alarm sounds to check on your pet.
- Use a pet temperature monitor, so you are always aware of the temperature inside your vehicle. These monitors will also send you text alerts if the environment becomes uncomfortable for your pet.
- Have a remote-start system installed in your car, or carry a spare key. This will allow you to leave the air conditioning or heat running. **Always set your parking brake if you leave your pet in a running vehicle!** Also note that leaving an unattended vehicle running may violate the law in some jurisdictions.
Don’t Forget to Buckle Up!
Pets die far more frequently in car accidents each year than in hot cars. Yet, the campaign for buckling up our pets hasn’t received the same attention.
Remember, the most important part of any pet friendly trip is coming home together safely!
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