Smashing a window to save a trapped animal could get you in trouble with the law

In Maryland, only emergency responders are covered
Posted at 6:07 PM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 07:20:02-04

During the dog days of summer, the last place your dog should be is in a car alone.

In Maryland, it is illegal to leave a cat or dog in a standing or parked car in a manner that endangers the health or safety of that animal.

It is also illegal for a bystander to smash a car window to save a pet trapped in a hot car.

The lawallows for police, local and state public safety employees, animal control officers, and fire rescue volunteers to use reasonable force to remove a cat or dog left in a car without being held liable for any damages.

“Even if you have the windows down, even if it's in a shady place, I recommend just trying to avoid [leaving a pet in a car] at all costs” said Dr. Amelia Kaeding with Falls Road Animal Hospital.

Different breeds can feel the effects of heat faster, particularly older dogs and puppies.

“Swollen tongue, so if their tongue is looking really big. And then once heatstroke gets much more serious, I worry about vomiting and diarrhea, especially if there's blood in it; muscle weakness, shaking, tremors, they can even get seizures,” said Dr. Kaeding.

Dogs with a lot of hair or smooshed faces are also very susceptible to heat stroke, and it doesn't take long for a car to get hot.

“Even on a 70 degree day and it feels nice and cool out, if you leave a dog in a car, it can get to 90 degrees in about 10 minutes,” said Stephen Wells the executive director with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

The ALDF tracks various “hot car” and “Good Samaritan” laws in different states. Twenty-nine states have some form of a hot car law that prohibits leaving a companion animal in an unattended vehicle. However, the laws differ place to place.

“In Maryland, there is a law that allows emergency responders to be able to break into a car but not members of the public, at this time,” Wells said.

Wells added it’s not likely for someone to face charges if they saved the animal, but there’s always a chance. He said it helps to do a few things to make sure you’re covered.

“It's good to have a witness, have somebody there. Make sure you're prepared to take care of that dog once you get them out. Do the least amount of damage possible and just make sure you don't risk the dog's or anyone else's safety while you're doing that,” Wells said.

Eleven states currently have Good Samaritan laws that grant immunity to anyone freeing a trapped animal.

Dr. Kaeding also warns pet owners to watch that their pets don't overheat while playing outside. If they do, it's recommended you take them to the veterinarian. You should also blow a cold fan on them, and dip them in cool water. Do not use ice or ice cold water. It can constrict the blood vessels and cause the dog to actually retain heat.