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Leaving Man's Best Friend in the Car Can Result in Tragedy


Thomas Law recently discussed the dangers associated with leaving children alone in cars--even for a few minutes while running into a store for a quick errand. (See "Leaving Kids Alone in Cars" posted May 27). Some of the same risks apply to leaving dogs in cars, especially in summer months. The potential harm to animals left in hot cars was illustrated on June 16, 2015, in the parking lot of an Atlanta Home Depot where two pet owners had left their dogs in their cars. It was 97 degrees outside, and while the dog owners were shopping in the air conditioned store, the temperature inside the cars rose to an unbelievable and life-threatening 150 degrees (as determined by the fire fighters when they arrived on the scene). Police and fire fighters were called, the dogs were rescued, and their owners were charged with cruelty to animals.

The dogs in the above incident survived unharmed, but sadly, many do not. Many dog owners mistakenly think that if they crack their windows and park in the shade their pet will be alright for the "few minutes" they run into a store or business. The fact is, people rarely spend only a "few minutes" away from the car, and the interior temperature of a parked car rises dramatically and quickly. For example: in 85 degrees with all four windows cracked an inch, the car interior reaches 102 degrees within 10 minutes and 120 degrees within 20 minutes. Even in 72 degrees with all four windows cracked an inch, the car interior will still reach 100 degrees in 10 minutes. (Source: Animal Protection Institute)


Georgia is one of thirty-five states with no specific law against leaving dogs in hot cars. However, doing so is illegal because it is considered cruelty to animals in violation of state law. Cruelty to animals is defined as causing death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission or willful neglect. Willful neglect is defined as the intentional withholding of food and water required by an animal to prevent starvation or dehydration. Felony animal cruelty, which is knowingly or maliciously causing death or physical harm to an animal, is punishable by not less than one year but not more than five years in prison, and a fine of up to $15,000.


If you see a dog left alone in a car on a warm day, take down the car's make and model, color, and the license plate number. Try to have the owner paged in the nearest store or business, and/or locate the nearest security personnel. If the owner is not reached and security is not available, call the police and/or fire department. Do not leave the dog until the owner or police/fire department has arrived to rescue it. Brain damage or death can occur in dogs in as little as fifteen minutes in hot cars.

As a last resort, some people have broken into cars to save animals they believe are dying and cannot wait for first responders to arrive. While Georgia law protects people who break into cars to rescue human beings in danger, it does not offer similar protection for the rescue of dogs. While there is movement to change the law and add protection for those who rescue animals, currently doing so could still subject someone to criminal prosecution and civil liability for damages. (Insert article here)


If you have questions regarding the law with respect to treatment of animals, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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