AB-797 passes; breaking into hot car to save distressed animal in California is super cool

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB-797 into law on Saturday, Sept. 24, which allows regular citizens to break into a hot vehicle for purposes of saving an animal in distress. Concerned citizens have taken such action in the past, but they faced both criminal and civil liabilities. Not anymore!

dog_drives_car_13889342521Featured photo by grassrootsgroundswellCC BY

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga), Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and other assembly members because of the alarming number of excruciating deaths that occur because pet owners leave their pets to roast inside their closed vehicles while they go about taking care of business. According to Los Angeles Times, “[t]he measure was supported by the Humane Society of the United States and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-55-58-amScreenshot from YouTube

The Legislative Counsel Digest reads, in part, that:

The bill would exempt a person from criminal liability for actions taken reasonably and in good faith to remove an animal from a vehicle under the circumstances described above if the person satisfies specified conditions, including immediately turning the animal over to a representative from law enforcement, animal control, or other emergency responder who responds to the scene. The bill would exempt a person from civil liability for property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle if the property damage or trespass occurred while the person was rescuing an animal pursuant to these provisions.

dogs-in-hot-cars-article-image-slimThe problem of people leaving their animals in their hot vehicles is so prevalent that the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) started selling car visors that warns people not to leave their dogs in hot cars and to call 911 to report trapped dogs.

To illustrate how quickly and how hot the inside of a vehicle gets in warmer temperatures, Assemblyman Steinorth, Assemblywoman Olsen and Assemblywman Chang took “the hot car challenge.” Assemblymember Santiago and Jennifer Fearing did, as well. The message was loud and clear. Animals trapped inside of hot vehicles because of neglectful or clueless owners suffer a horrendous death. They literally cook to death.

The passing of AB-797, which amends Calif. Penal Code section 597.7, is welcomed news for animal lovers in California. But, do not make the mistake of believing that the new law allows for vigilantism. It does not. It requires that the citizen who breaks into a car to save an animal meet the elements of subsection (b)(2)(A) through (F) – one of which is that you are required to contact law enforcement to report it. Calif. Pen. Code section 597.7. A careful reading of new law would be prudent for the would-be animal savior.


Featured image: Screenshot from YouTube (Inside Edition)

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