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Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in the Car? State-By-State Legislation (Vet Reviewed)

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on May 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog inside the car

Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in the Car? State-By-State Legislation (Vet Reviewed)

VET APPROVED

Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Before we begin, we’d like to note that no dog should ever be left inside a parked car without air conditioning or heat, regardless of the outside temperature. That said, every U.S. state has its own legislation regarding this topic, which we’ll discuss in the post. In some states, leaving your dog in a car is illegal, and doing so can result in hefty fines. However, others may have general animal abuse laws that may umbrella this type of issue. Let’s dive deeper.

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In What States Is It Illegal to Leave Your Dog in the Car?

Not only is leaving your dog in a car unsafe and potentially life-threatening, but it is also illegal in 31 states. These states prohibit leaving a dog in a car unattended under dangerous conditions, such as extreme hot or cold temperatures, lack of ventilation, and lack of food and drink. Some states even provide protection from being sued for those who intervene using force to rescue a distressed dog.

By contrast, some states only allow law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers to rescue an animal from a parked vehicle. To make the laws even more diverse, some states only allow dogs or cats to be rescued, excluding birds and livestock. Each state has its individual legislation, and the penalties for leaving a dog unattended in a parked vehicle or rescuing a dog vary from state to state.

Here are the 31 states that deem it illegal to leave a dog in a parked or stationary vehicle in extreme hot or cold conditions and with no ventilation. We’ve also listed the states with civil immunity or the “Good Samaritan Law” (protection for citizens from being sued for damage to property upon rescuing an animal from a stationary vehicle under dangerous conditions):

  • Arizona-Civil immunity
  • California-Civil immunity
  • Colorado-Civil immunity
  • Connecticut-Civil immunity
  • Delaware-Civil immunity
  • Florida-Civil immunity
  • Illinois
  • Indiana-Civil immunity (person is liable for half the damage)
  • Kansas-Civil immunity
  • Louisiana-Civil immunity
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio-Civil immunity
  • Oregon-Civil immunity
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee-Civil immunity
  • Vermont-Civil immunity
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin-Civil immunity
small dog waiting on leash on a Bicycle stand for its owner in front of supermarket or store
Image Credit: Yanya, Shutterstock

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In What States Is It Legal to Leave Your Dog in the Car?

Unfortunately, not all states have laws deeming it illegal to leave your dog in a parked car. Although some states have no laws specific to this issue, most states have animal cruelty laws that may cover such circumstances that hold the dog owner liable. Here are the states where it is legal to leave your dog in a parked car:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington D.C.
  • Wyoming

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States With No Rescue Provision

There are only two states that deem it unlawful to leave an animal unattended in a stationary car under inhumane conditions; however, no one is permitted or authorized to enter the vehicle to rescue a trapped animal. These two states are:

  • West Virginia
  • New Jersey
maltese-dog-sitting-in-the-car
Image Credit: Monika Wisniewska, Shutterstock

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States With Law Enforcement Rescue Law

The following states only allow law enforcement or similar personnel to intervene and rescue a dog trapped in a parked car under dangerous or inhumane conditions:

  • Washington
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Indiana

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What Steps Should You Take to Help a Distressed Animal in a Stationary Vehicle?

There is no easy answer to this question because what steps you take will depend on the laws in your state. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the steps you can take should you find yourself in this situation:

  • Take note of the make and model of the car and the license plate number.
  • Notify businesses nearby (if any) to make an announcement to find the dog’s owner.
  • If the owner cannot be found, notify the non-emergency police department or animal control and wait for them to arrive.
  • If your state allows you to break a window without liability, ensure the car is indeed off (some car engines today run nearly silent) and take action.
woman using her phone in the city
Image Credit: ImYanis, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

The best way to know how to react in this situation is to understand the laws in your state. As you can see, the laws vary from state to state, with some fully protecting the civilian and others deeming the civilian liable for damages to the dog owner’s vehicle. In any event, use your best judgment. If the dog is distressed, the situation is dire, and proper intervention is needed ASAP, contact the proper personnel as quickly as possible.


Featured Image Credit: Aleksey Boyko, Shutterstock

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