Everything You Need to Know About California’s Dog in Car Laws

Leaving a dog in an unattended motor vehicle in California isn’t illegal, but if you endanger its health or well-being, you could be subject to legal prosecution.
Written by Andrea Barrett
Reviewed by Jessa Claeys
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Leaving an animal unattended in a car in
California
for a short time isn’t illegal, but if your pet is left in a vehicle under conditions that endanger its health or well-being, you could face animal cruelty charges.
  • The California Penal Code Section 597.7 PC states that pet owners found guilty of leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle under dangerous conditions can be prosecuted.
  • Penalties for charges can be upwards to $100 per animal in less severe instances. In the event of severe bodily injury, pet owners can expect fines of up $500, jail time of up to 6 months, or both.
  • Good samaritans are protected under the California Penal Code from property damage charges given they follow the criteria of the law.
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California laws for leaving dogs in cars

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In California, it’s not illegal to leave your pet unattended in a parked car, but it depends on the circumstances and the environment. 
According to the
California Penal Code Section 597.7 PC
, “no person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal.”
Conditions that can endanger your pet include:
  • Excessive heat or cold
  • Lack of adequate ventilation
  • Lack of food or water
  • Other circumstances that may cause suffering, serious injury, or death
In 2016, the state added rescue provisions to the statute allowing good samaritans to remove an animal in danger from a parked car provided they meet the criteria listed in the law. 
This law protects rescuers from any criminal liability from forcible entry of a locked vehicle. However, they must ensure they contact local authorities, act in good faith, use no more force than is necessary, and remain in the area with the animal until it is turned over to an emergency responder or police officer.
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Penalties in California for unattended dogs in hot cars

If you leave your dog unattended in a parked car in California and are convicted of violating California Penal Code § 597.7, punishments can range from a fine to potential jail time. The degree of punishment depends on the offense and how badly your animal was injured.
A first infraction for violating Penal Code § 597.7 is punishable by a fine of not more than $100 per animal. If the animal suffered great bodily injury, the consequences increase:
  • Fine of up to $500
  • Imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months
  • Both a fine and imprisonment
Subsequent violations of the code, regardless of whether the animal was injured, are considered misdemeanors and are also subject to the same penalties and charges.
Did you know? If your pet was harmed while in someone else’s care, you might have grounds to take legal action against them. 
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What to do if you see a dog in a hot car

This year alone, 39 pets were rescued from dangerous conditions by good samaritans. If you see a dog in a hot car that may be in danger and at risk of animal abuse, here’s what you should do:
  1. Gather information: Write down the vehicle’s make, model, and license plate number.
  2. Notify others: If local businesses are around, notify the staff or security guard to find the car’s owner. 
  3. Monitor the dog: If the pet owner cannot be found, stay with them and monitor their symptoms to ensure the animal’s safety.
  4. Call for help: If no owner shows up, contact local law enforcement officers, animal control, or your local SPCA and stay with the dog until help arrives. 
  5. Educate: Since most dog owners aren’t aware that it’s dangerous to leave their pet in a hot car, spreading the word about the repercussions can increase knowledge and prevent the situation from happening again.
Be advised that breaking a car window to rescue a dog isn’t advised, as you could injure yourself and be charged with property damage.

FAQS

As long as the weather is above freezing and below 70°F, you can safely leave your dog in the car for up to 5 minutes.
Your dog will probably be okay if you’re only gone for 5 minutes or less. Longer than that, though, and the temperature can start to get dangerously hot.
Just cracking the windows isn’t enough to make a significant difference in the temperature of the car. And if the windows are all the way down, you run the risk of your dog jumping out of the vehicle.
Leaving a dog in a car in California is not illegal, but if you leave your dog in a vehicle where conditions could put them in danger or harm their health, you’re in violation of the California Penal Code Section 597.7 PC and could be liable for a fine of up to $500, potential jail time, or both.
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