Despite what we know about how fast cars can heat up, every summer there are numerous news tragic news reports about animals dying after spending too long in hot vehicles.

It can be extremely stressful to encounter a dog or cat sitting inside a car that’s turned off, with the windows rolled up and the temperature soaring under the hot summer sun. How long has the owner been gone? Are they coming back right away? Is the animal actually in distress? For many of us, our instinct is to help the animal. But you also may be worried about causing a commotion or getting into an argument with the owner. What can you do?

Many States Provide ‘Good Samaritan’ Protections

Depending on the state you live in, you may be able take action to protect a dog, cat, or other animal in a hot car without fear of getting in legal trouble. While 31 states have laws that prohibit owners from leaving animals in hot cars, 15 states also have laws that provide civil or criminal protections for people who break a car window to rescue an animal. These states are:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

Depending on the state, if you smash a car window to rescue an animal, the owner of the vehicle cannot sue you for the cost of the damage or police cannot arrest you. Many state laws, however, require you to complete certain actions before you simply resort to breaking glass. These can include making a “good faith” effort to locate the owner, calling 911, waiting at the car after you break the glass, or leaving a note about the animal’s location after you free it.

Most of the remaining states out of the 31 provide various allowances for police, emergency medical services, or animal control officers to break into vehicles to rescue animals.

What Else You Can Do

If you do not live in a state that provides civil or criminal protections for rescuing an animal, you still have options to help. You can:

  • Contact police, animal control, or fire and rescue services
  • Wait by the car to make sure the animal’s condition doesn’t worsen
  • Try to look for the animal’s owner

If you think the animal is in danger, you should be aware of the potential legal ramifications of taking the law into your own hands. In the meantime, you can spread the word among your friends, family, and community about how we can best look out for our good boys and girls.