Every year, hundreds of pets left in hot cars in the United States die. While New Jersey law makes it illegal to leave a pet locked in a hot vehicle, it does not provide immunity to people who cause property damage while attempting to rescue a pet.
What are the potential consequences of breaking a pet out of a hot car and what can you do instead?
New Jersey law
Pet owners who knowingly violate New Jersey law by leaving a pet in a hot car may face disorderly person charges. The penalty for a conviction is a $250 to $1,000 fine and a jail sentence of up to six months. If the pet dies, the pet owner may face a fourth-degree charge for a first offense and a third-degree charge for a repeat offense. Individual counties set penalties for third and fourth-degree crimes.
While some states provide immunity to good Samaritans who cause property damage while attempting to rescue a pet in a hot car, New Jersey does not. If you break into a car to rescue a pet, you could face criminal charges and be liable for damage to the vehicle.
What you can do
If you see a pet in a hot car, write down the license plate number, make, model and color of the vehicle. If the car is near a business, notify a manager or security officer so that the business can attempt to find the owner. If you can’t find the owner, call your police department’s non-emergency number and wait by the car.
Spotting a pet trapped in a hot vehicle can be distressing for animal lovers. However, it is important to consider the potential legal consequences before you take action.