Ohio has been added to the list of states where animals no longer have to suffer (and sometimes die) waiting for their owners to return to the car on a sweltering hot day. Senate Bill 215 was signed into law May 31 which allows a passerby to force their way into a locked vehicle to save a minor child or pet. The Good Samaritan legislation, which takes effect August 29, means the vehicle’s owner is limited in their right to file civil charges for damages against the rescuer.
There are some restrictions to the new law, however. Before breaking out a window, the rescuer must check to see that the car is locked. They must also call the local police department or 911 as part of proving that the situation is truly an emergency or a life-threatening incident. A pet owner leaving his dog or cat in the car for a few minutes to pick up the mail would usually not be a situation where the animal would be considered in danger.
If you have a cell phone with you, you should take pictures or video of the condition of the child or pet inside the car in case you run into an ungrateful pet owner like the Georgia woman who caused an uproar when she sued a Desert Storm veteran for breaking into her car to rescue her dog on an 80-degree day. (The charges were later dropped.) If you have to break a window, be careful not to injure the animal or others nearby in the process. Check if your car’s emergency kit contains a device with adequate force to do this.
Who Can Rescue A Pet
In several states that allow a Good Samaritan break-in, the person must be a law enforcement officer, an animal control officer, a humane officer, a firefighter or EMT personnel. All of these people have immunity, but they are required to take reasonable steps to remove the animal and must make a good faith effort to leave a notice on the vehicle’s windshield explaining the reason for entry into the vehicle and who has custody of the animal. Such immunity is granted in the states of California, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Virginia. Public officials may also break into vehicles to rescue pets in Arizona, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington.
Citizens can take matters into their own hands in Florida, New York, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and quite soon in Ohio. In New Jersey and Virginia it is illegal to leave an animal alone under dangerous conditions, but no one is given the authority to break into a vehicle.
Vehicles Can Heat Up Quickly
Many people do not realize the interior of a car quickly heats up and can suffocate a pet in a very short time. Even if the windows are open a crack, the temperature can increase by 40 degrees in less than 10 minutes, according to the ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). When the temperature is 80 degrees outside, the car will register 114 degrees in 30 minutes, members of the organization point out.
Animals are unable to deal with heat in the way humans do because they do not release body heat by sweating. Even when outside air is in the 80’s, asphalt can be 135 degrees—too hot for paws to walk on. Once animals overheat, they can suffer extensive organ damage or death.
Currently 21 states have statutes either specifically prohibiting leaving an animal in a confined vehicle and/or providing statutory immunity for those who respond to a suffering animal’s plight. Offenders in states without specific laws against leaving animals in possible danger can face state animal cruelty charges. A Texas man who left his dog in a hot car while he went to a movie was ultimately convicted under that state’s anti-cruelty law. Confining an animal “without shelter from wind, rain or snow or excessive direct sunlight” is prohibited under the Ohio Revised Code’s cruelty statute.
In most states the penalty for infractions of “hot car” laws is a misdemeanor. In New Hampshire, a second or subsequent offense is a felony. In Maine and South Dakota, there is no penalty for this type of mistreatment.
Some statutes specifically mandate that lack of adequate ventilation, failing to provide proper food or drink as well as exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures are conditions that violate the law. Other laws are somewhat more vague and require only that physical injury or death of the animal is likely to result.
While most “hot car” laws apply to animals in general, some are limited to certain kinds of animals. In Maryland, Minnesota and Nevada only cats and dogs are covered. In New York it is any “companion animal.”
What To Do If You See an Animal in Danger
What action should you take if you see an animal confined in dangerous temperatures?
1. Quickly write down the license plate number of the car and its make, model and color. Take pictures of the animal if you can.
2. Check to see that all the doors of the vehicle are locked.
3. Some states direct that you try to find the owner of the vehicle, but unless it is obvious (they are parked in front of a business that stands by itself), there may not be time to search for the animal’s owner.
4. Call the local police. If that is not successful, call 911.
5. If no one responds, try to get the number of local animal authorities and contact them. Stay at the scene until help arrives.
6. If you have no other choice, break into the vehicle and get the animal out. Be very careful as it may be disoriented and frightened and could snap at a stranger or attempt to bite.
In the unfortunate case you wind up defending yourself for your humanitarian actions in a place that does not have Good Samaritan laws, you could use the defense that the pet owner was negligent in the care of their animal. The owner could even be criminally liable although many cruelty laws address only intentional actions.
Even individuals who are used to handling animals on a daily basis have left them in an overheated vehicle with deadly outcomes. In the past few years, four law enforcement officers—two in Ohio, one in Alabama and one in Arizona were responsible for the deaths of the animals they supervised. They simply returned to work and forgot about their four-legged partner in the back of the car.
In any event, there has been increasing public awareness of the dangers of hypothermia when an animal is left unattended in a vehicle. In the last two years, six states have enacted laws regarding the issue. Pennsylvania has a “hot car” bill pending and California, Florida and New York are in the process of strengthening their laws on animals abandoned in extreme temperatures.
Help for Dog Bite Victims
If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog, Ohio law allows you to take action against the dog’s owner, harborer or keeper for your injuries and damages. To discuss your dog bite incident with one of our highly experienced Ohio dog bite lawyers, please contact us for a free consultation. A free consultation is just that- FREE. There are no costs or obligations to hire our law firm.