When Can You Save a Pet Locked in a Car?

And what are the consequences of doing so Oregon?

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on April 21, 2023

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It’s a beautiful, sunny, hot day in Oregon. You’ve got some errands to run, and you’d like to take your furry friend out with you. Your first stop is a short one, so you figure your dog will be fine in the parked car.

But the problem is, you could be endangering your pet, and breaking the law, in doing so.

Oregon’s Good Samaritan Law

Oregon recently passed a Good Samaritan Law, which lays out the circumstances and penalties for confining an animal in a unattended parked vehicle.

This state law expands protections for vulnerable companion animals by providing that anyone may enter a motor vehicle, “by force or otherwise,” to remove an unattended child or domestic animal without fear of civil or criminal liability—as long as certain requirements are met.

To fulfill these requirements, a person must:

  1. Have a reasonable belief that the animal or child is in imminent danger of suffering harm;
  2. Notify law enforcement, animal control or first responders before or soon after entering the vehicle;
  3. Use only the minimum force necessary to enter the vehicle; and
  4. Stay with the animal or child until law enforcement, emergency services, or the owner or operator of the vehicle arrives.

The Danger of Leaving Pets in Vehicles

Studies have shown that temperatures in cars can rise almost 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, even when it’s cloudy out, and that cracking a window does not affect this rise in temperature body temperature.

Since furry friends like dogs cannot sweat to regulate their temperatures, large increases in temperature can be very dangerous to an animal’s life. For example, dogs can suffer heatstroke and brain damage in fewer than 15 minutes.

As the Oregon Humane Society notes, signs of heat stroke in pups “include restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark red tongue or gums, vomiting and lack of coordination.” There have even been reports of dog overheating in a moving car on a warm day, and experts further say that younger dogs, senior dogs and dogs with short muzzles have a greater risk of heat stroke or other complications in a hot environment.

Hundreds of dogs die annually from being left in hot cars, as well as from the heatstroke and health complications that arise from owners doing so. The laws in Oregon provide for penalties of aggravated animal abuse, and many other very serious charges; they vary from monetary fines, removal of the animal from the owner’s care and jail time for the most serious cases.

Ensure Your Pet’s Safety, and Avoid Legal Trouble

If you are a pet owner, it’s good to always ask yourself if you absolutely need to bring your pet with you where you’re going. With proper planning, the worst of these incidents can be avoided. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a broken car window, and your pet is gone, however, be certain to contact a reputable and experienced attorney.

For more information on this area of law, see our overview of criminal defense.

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