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Good Samaritans could face criminal charges in hot car dog rescues

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.

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