Part of the fun in having a dog is being able to go places together. Most dogs love any excuse for a car ride, even if it is just down the street to the local shops. In their mind, it’s an adventure with their best friend (you!).
But, what happens when your destination does not allow dogs? How many of us have left Fido in the car for just a quick minute? It’s a common thing to do. We park in the shade and crack the windows or even leave the car running with the AC blasting for those few minutes we are away. Most of the time, everything is fine and we are back in no time. But, that’s not always the case. Sadly, there are plenty of times when an unattended pet in a vehicle has experienced unsafe conditions such as overheating in the summer or freezing temperatures in the winter. These are serious situations that can (and have) caused a pet’s death.
Recently, state laws are becoming stricter regarding animals left in unattended vehicles. Over half of US states have laws prohibiting people from leaving animals in confined vehicles under dangerous condition (i.e. heat/cold). Many states also provide legal protection for anyone who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle. Rebecca Wisch of Michigan State University details these laws in “Table of State Laws that Protect Animals Left in Parked Vehicles“. Summer time is often a big travel season so it is very important to familiarize yourself with local laws along your route and at your destination.
In New Jersey, it is prohibited to leave any living animal or creature unattended in a vehicle under inhumane conditions adverse to their health or welfare. Doing so constitutes cruelty and the owner can incur a fine. This information can be found in N.J.S.A. 4:22-26. Be aware of the laws in local towns and municipalities. Some areas have strengthened local laws to include any animal in an unattended vehicle regardless of whether they are in an unsafe situation.
What about laws to protect people who take action when an animal is in distress? Again, that depends on state and local laws. The majority of states limit “rescue” laws to only law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers. In some states, a person who uses reasonable force to remove an animal from a locked and unattended vehicle is not liable for any damages. In other places, the person would be responsible for paying half or the full amount of repairs to the vehicle.
Do all these laws mean Fido has to stay at home? Not necessarily, but it does mean planning out your trip a little more. Petfinder.com offers five alternatives to leaving your dog in the car. These suggestions include using the drive-through, having a friend stay with your dog outside, taking your dog inside pet-friendly stores, enjoying outdoor cafes, and skipping the trip with your dog. Sometimes, the best option is to keep Fido safe at home. Don’t worry. They’ll forgive you as long as the next car ride is to their favorite place.
By Kelly Dziak, 4-H Program Associate, Rutgers Cooperative Extension