A look at the procedures for rescuing animals from hot cars

A dog sits in a car, with the windows down, in the parking lot of the Edwards Cinema Canyon Country in July 2014. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included a quote from the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control stating that an individual must try to locate the owner of a vehicle before breaking its window.  This is not a requirement stated in AB 797. 

A California law that went into effect Jan. 1 made it legal for residents to smash car windows to save animals trapped in hot, parked cars.

However, the “Right to Rescue Act,” Assembly Bill 797, does not mean that residents can go around smashing car windows at random when they see an animal sitting in a car on a warm summer day.

There are a set of procedures that the law details which instructs individuals of when they can break car windows, without fear of criminal or civil liability, if an animal appears to be suffering.

Details of the Bill

The bill was drafted by Assemblymembers Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga) and Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) after several dogs died from being left in hot cars.

It was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24, 2016 and took effect at the beginning of 2017.

The law, however, is seen only as a last resort to save an animal trapped in a hot car.

Someone can only break into a vehicle if the animal appears to be in “imminent danger,” there is no other way to open the car and law enforcement has already been contacted.

After breaking into a vehicle, the individual must stay with the animal at a safe location until officials arrive on scene.

Action in Santa Clarita

In the Santa Clarita Valley, where temperatures reach 90 to 100 degrees on a summer day, parked cars can reach temperatures of up to 150 degrees.  This heat can cause animals inside to suffer from heat stroke and lack on ventilation.

Don Barre, of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, said the department encourages people to act responsibly and only break car windows if there appears to be a real emergency.

“The Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control encourages the public to act reasonably,” the department said.  “It is vital that they first contact and wait for law enforcement or animal control before acting.”

Shirley Miller, public information officer for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, echoed Barre’s statement in September when she told The Signal that residents should only break car windows when an animal appears to be in dire need.

“It’s when it’s a life or death situation when you can tell that animal is not doing well at all,” Miller said. “That would be an instance when a citizen should take action.”

Miller said the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station often receives calls from concerned residents about animals, especially dogs, left in hot cars.

“We also live in an area where there are a lot of animal owners,” Miller said of the Santa Clarita Valley. “We receive many calls from concerned residents during the warm weather of pets left in cars.”

If residents do believe an animal is in extreme distress and they cannot locate its owner, they are encouraged to call 911 or call the local LA County Animal Control at 661-257-3191.

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