Can We Legally Break a Car Window to Save a Dog from Extreme Heat?
As human beings, we never want to see a pet in a hot vehicle with the windows up. In fact, according to PETA, on a 78 degree day, the temperature in a vehicle can get up into the triple digits within minutes. On a 90 degree day, the interior temperature could get up to 109 degrees within 10 minutes. In addition, and this is just heartbreaking to type, animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes.
A question that gets asked from time to time is -- if we see it, can we do anything about it? Could we break a window to save the pet?
In short, yes we can in the Berkshires, and in Massachusetts in general. However, there are steps that need to be taken, according to law, before that can happen.
According to Mass.gov, a law was passed in August 2016, St. 2016, c. 248 An Act Preventing Animal Suffering And Death. The act prohibits owners from leaving their pets in a vehicle during extreme cold or heat -- when temperatures in the car exceed outside levels -- or environmental conditions “that pose an adverse risk to the health or safety of the dog.”
Breaking the Window to Save the Dog
Now, we get to the window breaking. According to the law, a bystander, in addition to animal control officials, law enforcement or firefighters, may enter the vehicle if “reasonably necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal.”
Before one can just go ahead and break the window, there are a few things that need to be done to keep it on the legal side of things:
- Check to see if the door is locked
- Call 911
- Make an effort to locate the owner.
If you check all of those boxes, and you are sure that you are correct, the law states that you can go ahead and be a Good Samaritan.
After Breaking the Window, What's Next?
You can't just break a car window and Batman your way out of the area. According to the law, the person must stay with the animal until law enforcement arrives. If you followed the proper steps, you would be "immune from liability resulting from the animal's removal."
While there is a Good Samaritan law in place in Massachusetts, you must make sure you have checked off the proper boxes. The Animal Legal Defense Fund says that the Commonwealth is one of eight states where this is implemented, but they highly stress the importance of contacting law enforcement before taking actions into your own hands.
Hopefully, we don't have any issues like this in the Berkshires, or anywhere for that matter. If it does, now you know what you legally can, or can not do.