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Spotting a pet in a hot car creates tough choices

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 3, 2014 at 10:56 am •  Published: September 3, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Imagine walking to your car after running errands and spotting a dog, panting and helpless, shut inside a hot car. Smashing the window might be your first impulse, but calling police or animal control will protect you from injury and possible lawsuits, experts say.

Hundreds of pets die each year when they are left in closed cars that rapidly become deadly on hot days, estimated Dr. Jules Benson, chief veterinary officer for Petplan pet insurance. He cited insurance claims, veterinarian records and other data.

"This just doesn't need to happen," Benson said. "Nobody means for it to happen. It is preventable."

Every minute counts when an animal is inside a hot car, but authorities encourage people to call 911 instead of breaking in. Those who do cause damage rescuing animals wouldn't be charged unless there is evidence of criminal intent, but dog owners could choose to sue, prosecutors said.

"California state law allows police and humane and animal-control officers to do what is reasonably necessary to remove an animal from a vehicle if it is in immediate danger," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Deborah Knaan said. "The law does not mention civilians."

Attempting a rescue yourself can also lead to injury, said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.

"You may be trying to help the dog, but the dog doesn't know who you are. And you don't want to get yourself hurt," he said.

States' anti-cruelty laws are used to prosecute people who endanger their animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund said 15 states have laws that go further by prohibiting leaving pets in hot cars and giving first responders an extra layer of protection against possible lawsuits.

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