Witnesses of pets in hot cars encouraged to call law enforcement

car window shattered by deputy who rescued dogs from locked car. photo courtesy of the SCV Sheriff's Station.

Since it took effect in early 2017, a California law that allows citizens to legally smash car windows to save pets trapped in hot, parked cars hasn’t seen much exercise, according to local officials.

The “Right to Rescue Act,” Assembly Bill 797, has a set of procedures for citizens to abide by, as the window-smashing provision is a last resort, said Shirley Miller, spokeswoman for Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

Since the bill passed, Miller said the station hasn’t necessarily seen a decrease in calls about pets in hot cars, or had incidents in which a citizen took action to help a distressed animal before calling the police.

“Even though the law makes a provision for citizens to break a window to help an animal in distress, I haven’t heard of that happening, yet,” she said. “We’re glad the provision exists. In case we can’t get there, and an animal is near death, now a person can legally rescue the animal.”

However, Miller still advises citizens to first call law enforcement to avoid altercations with the owner lest they return.

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 Belton 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.”

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

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

A.B. 797 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 then signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 24, 2016 and took effect in January 2017.

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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