You probably know that you shouldn’t leave your dog locked in the car on a hot summer day, but you may not realize that it is actually illegal to do so in California. Leaving a pet in a vehicle is considered a form of animal abuse under Penal Code section 597.7 (PC). If you leave your pooch (or other pet) in a vehicle (even on a cool day), you risk having your car window smashed, losing custody of your pet, and being issued a fine. Even worse, if the animal suffers great bodily injury, you will not only be left with the guilt of injuring your companion but also be charged with a misdemeanor.
Is it Illegal to Leave Your Dog in the Car in California?
In California, not only is leaving your dog in the car on a hot day against the law, 597.7 (PC) makes it a crime to leave your pet in the car in any way that could cause it to suffer great bodily harm, including:
- not providing any ventilation
- leaving them for a prolonged period in a vehicle without fresh food or water
- leaving them in the car during excessively hot or cold weather
One thing many people fail to understand about leaving animals in the car unattended is that even when the weather is a pleasant 80 degrees outside and the windows are cracked, the temperature inside a vehicle can quickly climb to over 100. Sadly, hundreds of pets die this way each year simply because people think the weather feels nice outside.
Smashing Someone’s Window to Save An Animal is Legal
Both an emergency worker and a private citizen can break open your window to save an animal if the creature is in imminent danger under the state’s Right to Rescue law. In Southern California, this usually occurs when a dog or other pet has been locked inside a vehicle on a hot day. For private citizens to be legally protected by this law though, they must call the police first to let them know about the situation and see if the officers have any other advice to allow them to help the animal without causing property damage.
Acting to help an animal in a vehicle is a crime if you do not first take the proper steps to contact authorities. Failing to take proper steps to ensure the legality of your actions can result in vandalism charges, punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
Legal Penalties for Leaving Your Dog in a Car
If you leave your dog unattended in a vehicle, you might not just be left with a broken window and the loss of your pet, you might also face criminal charges. A first-time offense that does not result in great bodily injury of the animal results in a $100 fine per animal.
If the incident results in your pet suffering great bodily harm, or if you have a prior conviction, you could face a $500 fine and up to six months in prison. In addition, some people charged with this crime will also face charges for other forms of animal cruelty, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony regardless of whether it was committed maliciously or was a result of neglect. Your criminal defense attorney may be able to have additional charges dropped in these cases.
Fighting the Charges
There are many defenses to charges filed under 597.7 (PC). Because the law requires the animal to be at risk of harm, the most common defense involves arguing that the animal was never in real danger. For example, while your car can become very hot and dangerous in the summer, leaving a dog in your car on a 65-degree day during the winter will not hurt it. Similarly, suppose you leave your pup in a temperature-controlled vehicle (such as a Tesla with “Dog Mode”) without water or food. In that case, it is not a crime, as long as they were not left for an excessively long period —for example, the amount of time it took to pick up a prescription from the local drug store.
Lastly, in the case of emergencies, your attorney could get the charges dropped. For example, if you only intended to leave your car to withdraw money from an ATM, but while you were out of the vehicle, you suffered a medical emergency that caused you to lose consciousness, you wouldn’t be legally responsible for leaving your pet in the car.
If you have any questions about 597.7 (PC) or any other type of animal abuse charges, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation with Peter M. Liss.