We all love our pets -- they deserve to be taken good care of. In fact, some of us have even begun involving our fluffy little friends in every single thing they do; from taking a break and watching movies to grocery store trips. However, if you're one of those pet owners who love tagging their pets along for a drive, you might have to think twice before leaving them unattended inside your vehicle.
Under California Penal Code PC 597.7, it is prohibited to leave any animal inside an unattended vehicle under conditions that would harm the health or well-being of the animal. These risks include:
- Extreme temperatures;
- Lack of proper ventilation;
- Lack of food or water; and
- Other conditions that could potentially cause disability, pain, or death to the animal.
While dogs are the most common victims, this statute protects all animals. Including illegal pets in California
Meanwhile, most pet owners are too confident with their ability to speedrun errands (such as buying something from a store) and believe that their pets will be perfectly fine by themselves inside the car for a while. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Remember that time is not the key element of the crime; it does not matter how fast or quick you returned to your vehicle. Rather, it's whether your pet was exposed to harmful conditions.
Further, PC 597.7 also offers immunity from criminal prosecution to a person who would remove an animal from a vehicle out in good faith. That is, given that the individual performed all of the following:
- Destroyed a section of the vehicle to free the animal from harm because the doors were locked;
- Reasonably believed that forcible entry into the vehicle was needed for the immediate safety of the animal inside;
- Contacted emergency services such as the police station, fire department, and animal control before forcibly entering the car;
- Does not leave the animal after rescuing it from danger and stays with it until authorities arrive;
- Does not use an excessive amount of force than what is needed to retrieve the animal from the vehicle; and
- Surrenders the animal to the authorities.
While dogs are the usual victims of this crime, the following scenarios can also be unlawful under PC 597.7:
- The owner of a local pet store wanted to move his business to another state. So, he booked for a moving company that would help him relocate all of his animals to their new store. The destination was quite far so the truck driver stopped by a cheap motel to sleep for the night. However, he forgot to leave adequate food and water for the animals. The next day, he discovered that most of the animals have become weak and frail.
- A young couple was sharing an apartment and a pet cat. Eventually, they split up: the apartment went to the woman while the cat went to the man. The man was very bitter about their break-up. So, as a form of revenge, he decided to punish their cat by leaving it inside his car in the middle of the freezing night with no blanket, heater, food, nor water.
- During a sunny afternoon, you decided to bring your dog with you for a quick drive around the neighborhood. On the way home, you saw your best friend whom you have not spoken to in a while. You then exited the vehicle for a “quick chat” with her, leaving your dog unattended. Due to the sunny weather, the temperature of your car quickly rose. And by the time you returned, your dog has fainted out of overheating.
Other similar violations to PC 597.7 include:
- Animal cruelty;
- Transporting an animal in an inhumane manner; and
- Injure/kill pet
Penalties for Unattended Animal
The punishments for leaving an animal inside an unattended vehicle are harsh and serious. A violation of PC 597.7 is a “wobblette offense”, meaning it can be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor.
It can only be charged as an infraction if there was no great bodily injury caused to the animal. For this, the penalty is:
- A maximum penalty of $100 per animal
On the other hand, it can only be charged as a misdemeanor if there was great bodily injury caused to the animal. For this, the penalties are:
- A maximum county jail sentence of 6 months; and/or
- A fine not more than $500.
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