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USDA: We Want the Right to Rescue Pets from Hot Cars

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Sponsor: The Animal Rescue Site

Urge the USDA to amend the Animal Welfare Act, allowing concerned bystanders to rescue endangered pets from locked cars.

As summer temperatures rise, so do the number of beloved pets lost to vehicular heat stroke. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), that number reaches the hundreds every year.

This isn't surprising considering that on a 72-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise to almost 116º F in just an hour — about as much time as it takes for a grocery store run. That's dangerously hot by any standard, but especially for dogs, who lack the sweat glands we humans have to regulate body temperature1.

Even on a cloudy day with the windows cracked, conditions inside a car may turn lethal for any animals trapped inside within a matter of minutes. Rolling down the windows has actually been shown to have little effect on the temperature inside a car2.

Most tragically, nearly all of these incidents happen by accident due to simple misjudgments of time or weather.

As of 2020, 31 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of "hot car" law. In West Virginia and New Jersey, it is a crime to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions, but it is also illegal to enter the vehicle to rescue a trapped animal. Fifteen states provide immunity only for law enforcement, first responders, or animal control officers who enter a vehicle to rescue an animal. Only fourteen states have "Good Samaritan" or "Right to Rescue" laws which grant civil immunity for civilians rescuing an animal from an unattended vehicle under certain circumstances—like contacting law enforcement before entering the car2.

In states where these "Right to Rescue" laws are enacted, concerned bystanders can forcefully break into locked vehicles to free trapped dogs (and kids) without facing civil liability. Where the laws are not in place, concerned citizens may still get a pass from local legal systems.

Former ALDF fellow Jennie James writes, "Given bloated dockets, crowded prisons, and mandatory sentencing schemes, prosecutors are generally motivated to dismiss or settle cases brought against meritorious defendants. Thus, the person who breaks a car window to free a trapped dog may be lauded, not charged. In fact, since police enjoy similar discretion, the dog's rescuer may not even be arrested3."

The fact is, no one should be punished or sued for saving a life. "Right to Rescue" laws save lives when temperatures rise, and they should be implemented throughout the country.

Sign below to urge the USDA to give us the right to rescue endangered pets!

More on this issue:

  1. The Humane Society of the United States (2021), "What to do if you see a pet in a parked car."
  2. Animal Legal Defense Fund (2019), "Acts against leaving dogs locked in hot cars."
  3. Jenni James, Stanford Journal of Animal Law & Policy (1 July 2014),"When is Rescue Necessary? Applying the Necessity Defense to the Rescue of Animals."
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The Petition:

Dear Administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Care,

As concerned pet parents, we are horrified to see continued reports of innocent pet deaths due to vehicular heat stroke. Not only are these tragic deaths completely avoidable, they're also largely inadvertent, results of owners' simple misjudgment of time or temperature.

Recent "Right to Rescue" laws in Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida, and Ohio give good Samaritans the right to forcefully free trapped dogs (and kids) from parked cars without facing civil liability, and we want to see this privilege extended nationally.

We propose an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act whereby concerned bystanders can break into enclosed vehicles to free trapped pets without the risk of financial liability.

No one wants to see innocent pets die, and no one should hesitate to save one for fear of being sued. We urge you to take action on this issue now, before even more innocent lives are lost.


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