As spring turns into summer and the temperature rises, there are a few seasonal rituals that will be coming back into fashion: ice cream, going to the beach, wearing shorts. Oh yeah, and people leaving their dogs in cars to die of heat exhaustion.
Fortunately for dogs who live California, a group of state lawmakers want to create a legal protection for citizens who wish to rescue dogs trapped in hot cars by smashing the car window. While it's already illegal to leave an animal in a dangerously hot car in California, if you saw a pet that appeared distressed in a locked car, the best you could do is call 911 and hope that there were no other more important crimes being committed at that moment. Smashing a window to save the animal's life could get you sued. Assembly bill 797, currently working its way through the state legislature, would provide legal protection in that scenario under very specific circumstances.
If passed, the law wouldn't allow a person to just stroll up to a car window and smash away if they they see what they determine to be an overheated dog inside. As stipulated, a citizen would be protected from litigation only if that citizen takes a number of precautions. These include making sure the vehicle is indeed locked, determining the animal is suffering, calling professionals for help, staying with the animal after getting it out of the car, and only using as much force as necessary.
Wonder how bad it feels to be the dog in said situation? Watch Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society and Assembly member Miguel Santiago, one of the authors of the bill, sit in a scorching hot parked car themselves just to show you (also remember they can sweat out the heat but dogs can't):
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website, "on an 85 degree day, it only takes ten minutes for the inside of your car to reach 102 degrees, even when the windows have been left open an inch or two. Within 30 minutes, the car’s interior can reach 120 degrees." In addition, the American Veterinary Medical Association claims that hundreds of pets die every year due to being locked in cars.
Of course, we'd all hope that it wouldn't have to come to a random stranger to have to save a dog on a hot day from being cooked alive inside a car. Here's a bit of advice: If you're not willing to sit in a 120-degree box, you shouldn't make another creature do it either. Also, your dog probably doesn't need to go to the grocery store with you even if you both think it wants to.
As the public becomes more concerned with animal welfare in general, a range of protective measures are making their way through the legal and legislative systems across the country. These include everything from lawsuits claiming that chimpanzees should be granted limited forms of personhood, to making sure chickens have a little more personal space, to banning cat declawing.
And just in case you still think this is just some West Coast-specific hippy liberal animal rights thing: California isn't the first to introduce a bill like this. The authors actually found this law on the books in another state, decided it was a good idea and adopted it for themselves. That state: Tennessee.