California law protects citizens saving dogs from hot cars |

California law protects citizens saving dogs from hot cars

The inside of a car parked directly in the sun can reach a temperature 20 to 30 degrees higher than the temperature outside, according to Grass Valley Police Department’s Sergeant Clint Bates.

During the summer, Bates said, the police department receives daily phone calls from citizens reporting animals that are locked inside cars and appear to be in distress.

And on hot days, a distressed animal in a locked car can face health complications quickly, according to Stephanie Geckler, a senior animal control officer with the Nevada County Animal Control Division.

A new California law that went into effect in January allows a citizen acting “in good faith” to break the window of a car to free a distressed animal without legal repercussions, if they’ve followed correct procedures.

good samaritan law

Assembly Bill 797, also called The Good Samaritan Law, allows a person to free an animal from a locked vehicle if they have already contacted a local law enforcement agency, the fire department or animal control. The person must also check that the vehicle is locked, and use no more force than necessary to remove the animal.

If a “good faith belief” that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary has been established, then a person may legally break a window to remove an animal, the law says. The person is then required to remain with the animal in a safe location, wait for law enforcement to arrive and immediately turn the animal over to a responder on scene.

Bates recommends that people who find an animal that appears to be in distress inside of a car wait until law enforcement arrives instead of breaking a window themselves. He said the police department often responds to calls and determines that an animal isn’t actually in distress.

The department, he said, also has ways of entering a vehicle, if necessary, without breaking a window, and they are quick to respond to animal distress calls.

“We make it a priority,” Bates said. “All of our calls get handled pretty quickly.”

Nevada City Police Department’s Sergeant Chad Ellis said response time is about two minutes in Nevada City limits.

“It would be extremely quick,” he said. “We have the means to get the car open without damaging the car. It’s always best to call us and let us come out.”

Making an assessment

Geckler recommends people check for specific signs of distress when assessing whether or not an animal is unsafe. She said heavy panting, excessive drooling, and signs of anxiety, unconsciousness or tremors are the most visible clues to look for.

She also recommends checking the outside air temperature, assessing whether or not the windows of a vehicle are open and noticing if the car is parked in direct sunlight.

Geckler encourages people to “make an educated assessment of the animal’s condition based on what they see. If it’s bad, break the window, absolutely.”

Animal control and local law enforcement agencies carry laser thermometers that can assess the temperature of the inside of a vehicle, so waiting for a responder to arrive on scene, when possible, is always the best course of action.

After pulling an animal out of a hot vehicle, Geckler recommends bringing the animal into an air conditioned car or building nearby until law enforcement arrives. She said to give the animal cool water, but to avoid giving it ice-cold water, which could over-cool the animal and complicate its health further.

When law enforcement or animal control arrives, Geckler said, the animal will be taken to a veterinary hospital immediately.

Penalties for those who leave their animals inside a vehicle can vary, Geckler said. A first offender who has left their animal in a car in a situation where the animal isn’t necessarily showing signs of distress will typically face a fine of $100.

If an animal suffers great bodily injury, however, the offense becomes a misdemeanor and can include a fine not to exceed $500, imprisonment in a county jail for no more than six months or both. In rare cases, multiple charges, including a felony charge, can be issued.

On Friday, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call from a woman who had left her dog in a vehicle for about two hours in the LaBarr Meadows area, reports state.

According to Sergeant John Dzioba, the dog’s owner returned and attempted life-saving efforts, but those efforts were unsuccessful.

When animal control arrived on scene, the dog had already died. An investigation into the incident is ongoing, but Geckler said the woman could face a felony offense.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email or call 530-477-4231.

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