Ask an Officer: Leaving Animals Unattended in a Vehicle
Is it illegal to leave a dog in the car on a hot day? See what a local law enforcement official has to say.
Jeffrey Spaulding has been the chief of the Westminster Police Department since January 2, 2004. He came to Westminster with more than thirty years of police experience in the Howard County Police Department.
Chief Spaulding has agreed to work with Patch to answer citizen questions about laws, codes, ordinances, processes and penalties. If you have a question you would like to ask a police officer, post it in the comment section of this article or email email@example.com and we'll do our best to get it answered.
Question: Are there laws/codes against leaving animals in the car on a hot day? If there is a law, what are the penalties?
Chief Spaulding: In Maryland, like in many states, there is a law specifically addressing this issue. Section 21-1004.1 of the Transportation Article makes it illegal to leave a cat or dog unattended in a motor vehicle in a manner that endangers their health or safety – such as high temperatures on a hot day. The penalty for doing so is a traffic citation with a $70 fine. The law also provides the authority for police and animal control officers to forcibly enter the vehicle as necessary to ensure the safety of the animal. Under extreme circumstances such an act might also constitute criminal animal abuse or neglect – a misdemeanor crime. Those found guilty of animal abuse or neglect are subject to a period of imprisonment not to exceed 90 days and a $1,000 fine.
It is well documented that dogs are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness because they cool off by panting and through the pads in their feet. Leaving an animal in a car can quickly lead to nerve damage, heart problems, brain damage and death. Studies have shown that on an 80-degree day the temperature inside a car will rise to 99 degrees in just 10 minutes and nearly 110 degrees in 20 minutes. “Cracking the windows” has little effect on a car’s internal temperature.
If you have concerns about the safety of an animal in an unattended vehicle it is important that you contact the authorities right away. Any delay could result in additional harm to the animal.
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