Law Protecting Good Samaritans who Rescue Pets Left in Hot Cars Now in Effect

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The “Right to Rescue Act” protects Californians forced to rescue pets in distress. 

By Autumn Johnson

Good Samaritans and pets left unattended in cars in California are now better protected, thanks to new legislation that went into effect Jan. 1. The law allows people to rescue pets left in cars if an animal seems to be in distress from the heat or lack of ventilation, including breaking the vehicle’s window, without fear of prosecution or civil liability.

Assembly members Marc Steinorth, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga, and Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles, introduced the “Right to Rescue” act in 2016.

“I’m proud to have played a part in this new law,” Steinorth said via social media in December.

The law, which protects the rescuer from civil and criminal liability due to damage made to a vehicle during an exigent rescue, says the car must be locked and the witness must call law enforcement or fire officials before rescuing the animal. The rescuer must not use more force than necessary to free the distressed animal and must stay with the pet until emergency personnel arrives.

Other states, including Tennessee, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Vermont, have similar laws in place.
Police officials strongly urge pet owners to leave animals at home whenever possible to avoid putting them in a dangerous and illegal situation. California pet owners can be cited for a penal code violation for leaving their animals in their cars.

Experts urge residents to call the police whenever they see a pet in a car, compromised or not, so police can check to make sure they are not in distress. Signs of heatstroke in dogs, according to MSNBC.com, include excessive panting or drooling, very fast breathing, a dark or bright red tongue or gums, staggering or bloody diarrhea or vomiting.