What is the law regarding leaving a dog in the car? I usually keep my car with windows open and in the shade if I leave my dog there, but am I breaking a law? Is there a way to measure how hot it is in the car and is there a legal limit?
This is a great question, as we all care about our animals and want to ensure their safety. When these types of calls are received by the Sheriff’s Office, we conduct our initial investigation, but often times request the assistance of Animal Services for guidance. Supervising Field Manager Todd Stosuy of the Santa Cruz County Animal Services provided the following information about this topic.
The State of California Penal Code 597.7 states, "No person shall leave an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food and water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal."
This code does not explicitly provide a temperature that is too hot for an animal to be left in a vehicle. Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter officers will remove an animal from a vehicle when the temperature inside the vehicle is 90 degrees or above, and the animal is exhibiting signs of lethargy, sickness or excessive panting. We use a reptile cage thermometer to measure the temperature.
Owners often think that leaving an animal in a car for "just a minute" while they run an errand is safe. This is not true. Even cars that are parked in the shade with windows down leave an animal vulnerable to serious illness or death. I have personally seen vehicles parked in the shade with windows down, but due to no ventilation the temperature in the car was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the dog was suffering and had to receive immediate veterinary care.
While the law covers all animals, dogs are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness because they can only cool off by panting and through the pads in their feet. Dogs can only withstand a high body temperature for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or even death.
In conclusion, the Sheriff’s Office recommends that if you are in doubt, do not leave your animal in your vehicle.
—Sgt. Steve Carney
About this column: Ask A Cop is a weekly Q&A feature in conjunction with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office. To submit a question, email Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask A Cop is not intended to serve as and does not constitute legal advice. To report a crime or community problem, call your local law enforcement agency.