Los Angeles County is home to millions of people – and millions of pets. According to one estimate, L.A. County households have 1.72 million pets. Of these, approximately 1.1 million households are home to dogs and more than 770,000 are home to cats. Not surprisingly, households within the City of Los Angeles account for most of those pets, with more than 700,000 dogs and 400,000 cats, respectively.
For dog owners, this begs a serious question. Is it illegal to leave your dog alone in the car in California? The answer is, “it depends.” Keep reading to learn more.
Animal endangerment prohibited
Technically, you can leave a dog alone in a car. However, California Penal Code § 597.7 makes it illegal to do so in dangerous or potentially dangerous conditions. Specifically, it is illegal to leave your dog in the car by itself if it is too hot or cold. It is also illegal to leave your dog alone in the car without sufficient ventilation, or without food or water. Furthermore, you cannot leave your dog alone in a car in any other circumstances “that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”
How you can put your dog at risk by leaving him in the car alone
When it comes to leaving dogs in motor vehicles by themselves, experts urge owners not to be fooled by mild temperatures. Even if the outside temperature is roughly 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they say, the temperature in your vehicle can quickly reach well over 100 degrees. This is dangerous because the onset of certain heat-related illnesses in dogs can happen when their body temperature reaches 103 degrees.
Another misconception is that leaving your car in the shade, with the windows slightly ajar, lessens this danger. But experts say that is not necessarily the case. This is because motor vehicles are temperature conductors. In other words, they conduct and intensify the outside temperature, no matter how hot or cold it is.
For that reason, it is also dangerous to leave an unsupervised dog in a vehicle in cold weather. Without warmth from the car’s heater, hypothermia can set in, putting the dog at risk of serious injury or even death.
Keeping your dog safe if you must leave him in the car without supervision
For the most part, it is okay to leave your dog in the car for no more than five minutes, as long as the outside temperature is above freezing and below 70 degrees.
If you are doing daytime errands with Fido or Rover in tow, you can help keep him safe by parking in the shade. Don’t forget to put the car windows down a hair to help with airflow while you are gone, and be sure to return to your vehicle as soon as possible. Staying away longer than intended while your dog is alone in the car could put him at risk for heat-related illnesses or even death.
Legal consequences of leaving your dog in the car by itself
If you leave your dog(s) alone in your car and you are convicted of violating California Penal Code § 597.7, you face punishments ranging from a fine to a fine and or jail time. The extent of the punishment depends on whether this is your first or a subsequent offense, and how badly your dog was hurt.
For a first offense that does not result in serious illness or injury, you face a fine no greater than $100 per animal. If your dog is seriously hurt, you face a maximum fine of $500, up to six months in county jail, or both. You face the same punishment for any subsequent violation of this section, regardless of how badly your dog is hurt.
Clearly the best way to stay out of trouble is to leave your dog at home. If you must take your dog along when you are doing errands, remember to take the precautions detailed above.
In the meantime, feel free to contact the Los Angeles Law Office of Parag L. Amin to learn more about California pet laws, or any related issues.