New Law Regarding Pets at Risk inside Vehicles

A new law went into effect Jan. 1 that protects good Samaritans from being held criminally liable if they break into a locked vehicle to rescue an animal in distress.

County Animal Services says there are certain things to keep in mind before anyone breaks into a vehicle to free a pet.

First, it is not illegal to leave a pet in a vehicle. Animals can stay inside as long as they aren’t in danger from the heat, the cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or any other circumstances that could put them at risk.

If the animal is alert and active, then it is not in immediate danger. In those instances, County animal control officers would not break into a vehicle. The officer would post a notice on the vehicle and return to check on the pet later depending on the weather conditions, the temperature inside the vehicle, whether the windows are cracked open and if the pet has water. If the animal does need help, officers have tools to rapidly break into the vehicle and free the animal.

A member of the public must follow these steps before breaking into a vehicle:

  • Determine the vehicle is locked and there is no other way to remove the animal
  • Have a good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the animal is in imminent danger if it is not immediately removed
  • Contact local law enforcement, the fire department, animal control or call 911 before forcibly entering the vehicle
  • Use no more force than necessary to remove the animal

Once the animal is out, the rescuer must stay with the pet in a safe location near the vehicle until it can be turned over to a peace officer, humane officer, animal control officer or another emergency responder.


Tracy DeFore is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact