What Happens If You Leave Your Pet in the Car in Florida?

Summer is just around the corner! That means days that never seem to end spent at the beach with friends, family, and of course, your dogs are about to begin! No summer day would be complete without having the four-legged members of your family with you as you soak up the sun, enjoy leisurely walks down the boardwalks, and cool off in the Gulf of Mexico.

As much as you enjoy being outside, you can tell your dog loves it just as much, if not more. There are plenty of pet-friendly places for you to visit in southwest Florida, but it's important to plan your day around making sure you don't have to leave your pets in the car for any length of time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states the temperature inside a sealed car sitting receiving any direct sunlight "can climb from 78 degrees to 100 degrees in just three minutes, to 125 degrees in 6-8 minutes". Running into the store to grab lunch, more ice, or to use the restroom can easily take 15 minutes – making the conditions inside the car unbearable for your pet.

It is Illegal?

Yes and no. No, the actual act of leaving your pet inside the car is not illegal in Lee County, but according to Lee County Ordinance # 09-20 Section 23: "The owner or operator of a motor vehicle shall not place or confine an animal, nor allow an animal to be placed or confined in an unattended motor vehicle without sufficient ventilation or under conditions which may endanger the health or well-being of the animal due to heat, lack of water or any other circumstances which may cause suffering, disability or death."

The Ordinance continues on to state that an Animal Control Officer or law enforcement officer may enter the vehicle using any means necessary if they find that the animal is in obvious danger or distress. They will either impound the animal with animal services or seek veterinarian care if needed. This basically means that law enforcement officers have the right to use their best judgment in accessing whether or not your pet is in danger. If they find that your pet is in danger or distress, they can break into your car, if necessary to secure your animal. If you cannot be reached after they have retrieved your pet, they will leave a written notice on your car letting you that they have possession of your pet.

If you are found to be in violation of this Ordinance, upon conviction you would be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided for in Florida Statutes.

When is it Acceptable?

Unless a bystander, officer, or animal control officer was there to witness when you left your pet in the car, it's nearly impossible for them to judge how long it's been inside.

They will begin to look for signs to alert them to the level of danger including:

  • Whether or not the car is in direct sunlight
  • Whether or not the windows have been left partially open to allow for adequate airflow
  • If there appears to be a source of water in the car for the animal
  • Is the animal panting?
  • Does he appear lethargic or unresponsive?

Considering how quickly the summer temperatures rise in Florida, it's almost impossible for you to gauge how long your pet will be safe in a car by himself. It's best to use your best judgment about whether or not you should leave them in the car.

What to Do If You See a Distressed Pet

If you walk past a car that appears to have an animal that's distressed, immediately call 911. DO NOT attempt to open the car or gain access to the animal. As a citizen, you do not have the ability to enter another person's car without permission. Do not leave the car or the animal until the proper authorities have arrived. They will have questions that they'd like you to answer for their reports.

Always be sure to have a plan in action for keeping your pets safe when taking them along for errands, a beach day, or just along for a quick ride. Not only could you face a misdemeanor charge if you're found guilty of leaving him unattended in your car without proper care, but chances are it's just too hot for your animal.

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