When temperatures in Florida during the summer can easily climb into the mid-90s, that means the temperature inside your parked car can quickly become even hotter.
And as temperatures climb, so too does the risk of hot car deaths.
So far this year, there have been at least 46 reports of pets being killed after being left in hot cars, according to PETA. There’ve been more than 100 rescues.
So what should you do if you see a pet left alone inside a locked car?
The answer might seem intuitive: Break in and rescue them, right?
A post shared hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook says it’s that straightforward — just be sure to document the situation by snapping some photos or video.
“Following these steps will prevent you from being charged with criminal damage,” the viral Facebook post says.
But according to Florida law, it’s not quite that simple.
Is it legal to break into a locked, hot car to rescue a pet just as long as you snap some photos or video first?
No, it’s not legal to break into a locked, hot car to rescue a pet as long as you just snap some photos or videos first.
WHAT WE FOUND
While most people, hopefully, would break through a window at a moment's notice, there are certain criteria to follow to be protected from the law.
According to Florida law, someone who enters a car, including by force, can be immune from penalty for saving a person — the law applies to rescuing an animal, too.
Florida is one of 14 states with laws providing protection from lawsuits or charges for people who try to rescue an animal from a hot car, according to data compiled by the Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center.
But if you were to see a person or animal in need, the law dictates you need to consider a few things first. Following just what’s in that widely shared post wouldn’t be enough.
There's five steps you need to follow in Florida in order to shield yourself from liability,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund’s managing attorney David Rosengard.
- Can the person or animal exit themselves? If not, continue reading.
- Do you have a reasonable belief the person or animal is suffering?
- Call 911
- But use no more force than necessary.
- Stay with the person or animal in a safe spot near the car until first responders arrive.
Rosengard says making that call is a crucial step — which isn’t mentioned in the post.
“You either call them first or call them right afterward,” he said. “Documentation is great, whip out your cellphone and take some video, take some photos, that’ll be helpful. But you’ve got to make the call—that’s really clear under the law.”
Staying with the animal after rescue until first responders arrive is also a critical consideration in the law not included in the post.
“It’s important that you be there to hand them off to first responders, provide a witness statement,” Rosengard said. “The other reason is animals tend to wander off on their own.”