New law allows emergency responders to remove pets from hot, cold cars
A state law that protects animals from hot and cold cars went into effect just as winter temperatures begin to dip.
Act 104 of 2018 — formerly known as “the hot car bill” — allows public safety professionals to remove unattended animals from vehicles if they’re in danger from heat or cold — without liability for any damages.
The law provides “legal authority with civil immunity” to law enforcement, animal control, and humane officers and emergency responders. But since there is no good Samaritan provision, the protections do not extend to private citizens.
If you see an animal unattended that may need help, contact authorities or your local humane officer. This state website can help you find contact information for the local humane officer person is based on the county.
If possible, citizens should stay with the vehicle until authorities arrive and write down pertinent information like the time, location and make and model of the vehicle. Do not confront the owner should he or she return to the vehicle before authorities arrive — just jot down the time and description of the person so authorities can attempt a follow-up investigation.
The law requires rescue officials to make a reasonable effort to find the owner prior to entering the vehicle. Once an animal is removed, the person who performed the rescue must leave a note with contact information and the location where the animal can be retrieved.
Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania’s state director of the Humane Society, said while most people understand that pets can overheat in vehicles during the summer months, winter exposure dangers are less well-known.
Since different canine breeds have different reactions to cold, it can be hard to pin down a specific window of danger during the colder months.
“The prevailing wisdom seems to be that if it is too cold outside for your dog, then it is too cold to leave them in the car as well,” Tullo said.
Once temperatures drop below 45 degrees, owners should be aware of long-term cold exposure. Temperatures under 20 degrees are even more urgent, and no animal should be left inside a vehicle for any significant period of time in such cold.
Cars left running with heat blowing don’t solve the problem, Tullo said. In fact, those circumstances can pose risks such as overheating and carbon monoxide fumes, she said. A shivering pet inside a locked car is an early sign that the animal should be warmed up immediately.
The risk of a pet overheating in a car parked within direct sunlight remains very real even in the winter, Tullo warned. Sunlight can heat up vehicles quickly, and an extended period in the warmth can cause injury, she said.