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Laws About Leaving Pets Unattended in an RV (2024)

| Updated Jan 23, 2024

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 a survey we did in 2016, about two-thirds of RVers travel with animals, mostly dogs. We think that number is even higher today.

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.

Types of Law About Leaving an Animal in a Vehicle

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.”

Some States Allow Forced Entry to Rescue Pets

Laws About Leaving Pets Unattended in an RV

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 the 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.”

10 Best Dog-Friendly Campgrounds in the U.S. 

Laws About Leaving Pets Unattended in an RV (2024) 1

To help you plan your next adventure, we've compiled a list of 10 great dog-friendly campgrounds that offer endless opportunities for outdoor fun and relaxation. So pack your bags, grab your leash, and get ready to create FURever memories with your best friend! Keep reading…

The Great Lakes Adventure Guide Bundle
(The Great Lake Shoreline Tour & Upper Peninsula RV Adventure Guide)

Laws About Leaving Pets Unattended in an RV (2024) 2

Jennifer and I have been visiting Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for more than three decades. We’ve hiked, photographed, camped, fished, and explored every region and the problem of bugs in the UP is minuscule compared to the joy we experience every time we visit!

Bugs aside, the UP is our favorite place. So much so that we wrote an Adventure Travel Guide on the Upper Peninsula aimed at RVers.

This instantly downloadable ebook is a seven-day guided exploration of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

We provide a suggested route and itinerary, links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, and the best spots to see along the way.

Then we've bundled it with one of our newest ebooks on the Great Lakes!

The Great Lakes Shoreline Tour — One of our favorite RV trips has been driving the United States side of the five Great Lakes.

It is a trip of over 4,000 miles and takes you to 8 states!

And it’s filled with beautiful vistas, welcoming towns and villages, and fabulous places to camp, hike, and explore.

Both of these ebooks have something for everyone and all it takes is one visit to make it one of your top destinations.

All you need to do is point the RV north and follow our guide to experience the UP like a Yooper and explore The Great Lakes like an explorer. CLICK HERE for more details.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2024-01-21

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

9 Responses to “Laws About Leaving Pets Unattended in an RV (2024)”

January 22, 2024at10:42 am, Peter Colman said:

And our Teslas have “dog mode”. It controls the temp in a parked car and shows details including interior temperature you have set, in large letters on the big screen. I use it to keep groceries cool when shopping in more than one supermarket.


January 23, 2024at12:43 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

What a great feature! Thanks for sharing — Team RV Lifestyle


January 22, 2024at7:57 am, Paul McVinney said:

We bought a second AC for our trailer as a kind of insurance to make sure the animals stay cool when we are away from the trailer. We also limit our time away to 4 hours.


January 23, 2024at12:43 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Great tips – thanks for sharing, Paul! Team RV Lifestyle


January 13, 2021at2:20 pm, jerry snyder said:

yes leaving in a truck or car is one thing but most people who leave their pet in motor homes leave their ac or furn on or there vents and fans and so on . So I wonder if they would be able to do that with one left in their rv for some reason . it looks like the law states in a veh such as trk or car if I read your comments right


July 22, 2022at3:41 pm, Kelly Blair said:

I agree. One of our reasons for getting an Rv is so our peruse can go with us but you cannot take them everywhere so we make sure they are safe and air or heat is on. We have a monitor where we can see temp in Rv in case something fails. Does traveling in an RV mean I can never go to a restaurant, movie or museum?


January 23, 2024at11:30 am, Jill Seitz said:

We were looking into something like this, but the ones I saw worked with our cell phones and you do not always have service. Have you found that to be an issue. We have a generator and keep heat and/or cool on along with food and water to leave for an hour or two so we can shop or grab a meal. Have you found something that works well when not with good cell service?


January 13, 2020at3:40 pm, STEPHEN P MALOCHLEB said:

Thanks,just printed it out and will keep it in my MH for future need when stupid people do stupid things.


January 06, 2020at4:16 pm, Bryan Curley said:

Thanks for sharing this. My wife and I just adopted a 1 year old puppy from a shelter in Austin, Texas and as you know–life gets a little more complicated when you travel through so many states. Appreciate the info!


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