What you can do to help a dog in a hot car without breaking the law

20th June 2014

What you can do to help a dog in a hot car without breaking the law

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In the UK we are a nation of dog lovers and many people take their dogs everywhere with them, including in the car. Every summer we get warnings from the authorities about leaving pets in cars yet every year some dog owners are left grief stricken and possibly face prosecution for neglect after their animals die of heat exhaustion in the car.

But what should you do if you spot a dog locked in an unattended car in hot weather?  It can be distressing for you and the dog to know what to do for the best.

The obvious course of action should be to try to find the owner of the car and the dog.  For example, if the car in question is parked at a supermarket or shopping centre, asking them to make a tannoy announcement to contact the owners of the vehicle is the first step to take.

If the owners of the car cannot be contacted or do not return to the car quickly, contact the police as an emergency to attend the vehicle. If the police are unable to attend, contact the RSPCA’s cruelty line.

Where you stand legally if you break a window to rescue an overheating dog is something of a grey area; you should not take any action to gain access to the car without first speaking to the police.  But you can smash a window to rescue the dog, only if there was not other choice and the action was an honest one. In the end it will be for you to justify your actions and the best way of doing that would be for you to be able to say honestly that not only was there no choice but that the owner of the car would agree with you that there was no other choice.

If a dog suffers or dies as a result of being left in a hot car, their owner or caregiver can be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty under animal welfare laws. Successful prosecution for neglect or cruelty can lead to time, fines and being banned from keeping animals in the future.

Hugh Rowland, our criminal lawyer has successful experience in working on cases involving cruelty to animals. If you need any advice, you can contact him on 01473 298141 or email him hugh.rowland@gotelee.co.uk

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