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Making It Easier to Rescue Dogs Trapped in Hot Cars

Thirty-one states and Washington D.C. have laws that address animals left unattended in cars.

Thirty-one states and Washington D.C. have laws that address animals left unattended in cars. Shutterstock

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Firefighters and paramedics can now legally break windows to rescue pets left in hot and cold cars under a new law in New York.

First responders in New York can legally break windows to help pets left in hot or cold cars under legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.

"Leaving a pet in a stifling hot or freezing cold car is inhumane and potentially dangerous, and emergency responders should have the ability to remove them if necessary,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As a dog owner myself, I am proud to sign this measure into law to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of animals."

The bill, passed unanimously by both chambers of the New York State Assembly, amends a state law that previously allowed only police or a “peace officer acting as an agent of a duly incorporated humane society” to break car windows without incurring liability. The new law extends that authority to emergency medical services personnel and firefighters (both paid and volunteer), provided that the owner of the car cannot be quickly located and that the animal is left in a car in “extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection.”

Parked cars can quickly trap heat and become deadly for humans and animals locked inside, even when the weather is relatively pleasant. When it’s 75 degrees outside, for example, the inside of a car can reach 94 degrees in just 10 minutes, and cracking a window does not provide enough ventilation to mitigate the effect, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

After removing the animal from the vehicle, officials in New York are required to leave a note with their name, the department or agency they represent, and the address and contact information for the place the animal will be taken.

The law aims to reduce response times to 911 calls that an animal is in danger, particularly in rural communities with fewer law enforcement officers, said state Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, the bill’s main sponsor.

“In areas with limited police resources, this new law becomes even more important as it expands the number of emergency personnel who can respond to a desperate situation where a helpless animal is in imminent danger and the owner cannot be located,” he said in a statement.

“This measure will offer greater protections to our precious pets and penalize those who put them in harm’s way."

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws that address companion animals left unattended in parked cars in dangerous conditions. Fourteen of those are “good Samaritan” laws that grant civil immunity to anyone who rescues an animal trapped in a car, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Some of those policies, including New York’s, levy fines for people who leave their animal in an unsafe car; in the Empire State, people who “knowingly violate” the law can be fined up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 for subsequent violations.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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