There is a lot of confusion about leaving pets unattended in an RV. Here’s the law:
It’s no secret that our RV Lifestyle Fellow Travelers love traveling with their pets. According to our survey, about two-thirds of RVers travel with animals, mostly dogs. Consequently, travelers leaving pets in vehicles is a topic that has garnered much attention. It has been the subject of RV Lifestyle past podcasts and blogs.
And it has also drawn attention from lawmakers across the U.S.
Per a research paper published in 2020 by the Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal & Historical Center, there are 31 states that have laws either prohibiting leaving an animal in a confined vehicle under dangerous conditions, or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle.
“Most laws provide that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle,” according to the paper authored by Rebecca F. Wisch.
“For a person to violate the law, the conditions in the motor vehicle have to endanger the animal’s life. Some of the statutes specifically state that extreme hot or cold temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation, or failing to provide proper food or drink meet this definition.
Other laws simply state that the conditions pose an imminent threat to the animal’s health or safety. Also, some states only cover dogs and cats while other states define ‘animal’ more broadly.”
States with such laws typically allow the rescue of the animal from the vehicle, the paper says.
This may involve forcibly entering the motor vehicle to remove the trapped animal. Some states limit their “rescue” laws to law enforcement, firefighters, animal control, first responders, or authorized humane officers. Recently, about 15 states have enacted laws that allow any person to rescue a distressed animal (AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, IN, KS, LA, MA, OH, OR, TN, VT, and WI).
These laws function to limit the civil or criminal liability of the person for damages that result from the forcible entry of the vehicle. Indiana is the first and only state to require the person who forcibly enters a vehicle to rescue an animal to pay half the damages.
West Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that criminalize the act of leaving a pet unattended under dangerous conditions without providing a rescue and immunity provision for anyone.
With these new rescue laws, most require would-be rescuers to follow a number of steps. For instance, these laws may require that people first ensure the vehicle is locked and forcible entry is the only means to retrieve the animal. The person may be required to first call 911 or local enforcement before entering the vehicle.
The law may require that a note is left indicating the safe location of the animal and that the person remain on scene until law enforcement or other first responders arrive.
Penalties Vary from State to State
Penalties for leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle under dangerous conditions vary from state to state. A few states make it an immediate fine, like other civil infractions. The rest of the states assign a misdemeanor penalty, with fines ranging from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Some list possible jail time or imprisonment. New Hampshire makes a second conviction a felony offense.
“While not all states have laws that address animals in parked vehicles, numerous local ordinances prohibit this, and more may be enacted,” the paper states. “Even without a state or local law, this action could still constitute cruelty under some circumstances.
In fact, in the Texas case of Lopez v. State, the defendant left his dog in his car on a hot day to go and watch a movie in a theater. He was ultimately convicted under the state’s anti-cruelty law. Notably, Texas does not have a statute that specifically addresses dogs left in parked vehicles.”
The complete breakdown of current laws about leaving pets in vehicles from across the U.S. can be found at in the interactive table below or at https://www.animallaw.info/topic/table-state-laws-protect-animals-left-parked-vehicles