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

Pets and Cars in the Florida Heat

Summer means getting outside and enjoying the Florida sunshine. It also means taking “man’s best friend” with you to the beach, the park or wherever you’re going. My puppy, Petunia, loves going for a ride in the car (unless we are going to the Vet, but that’s another story.)  As responsible pet owners, it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure we have a plan.

Dogs love to be outside just as much as we do. There are plenty of pet-friendly places for you to visit in 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, not even a few minutes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states the temperature inside a sealed car receiving any direct sunlight “can climb from 78° to 100° in just three minutes, 225° in 68 minutes.” So, a quick trip into the grocery store or a convenience store which can easily take approximately 15 minutes, can be a recipe for disaster. Imagine what your dog is experiencing in the hot car while you just pop in to pick up a few things? It could be unbearable for them.

Is it Illegal?

Yes and no. No, the actual act of leaving your pet inside the car is not illegal in Lee County, Florida, but according to Lee County Ordinance number 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 an obvious stage of distress. They will either impound the animal with animal services or seek veterinary care if needed.  This basically means that law enforcement officers have the right to use their best judgment when determining whether or not your pet is in danger or distress. If they reasonably believe 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 have a written note on your car letting you know that they have taken possession of your pet.

If you are found to be in violation of this ordinance, you could be cited with a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable per the 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 your pet has been inside the vehicle.

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 the animal appear lethargic or unresponsive?

Considering how quickly the summer temperatures can rise in Florida, it’s almost impossible for anyone to gauge how long a pet will be safe in a car by itself. It’s best to use your best judgment about whether or not you are going to leave your pet in the car for any period of time.

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 motor vehicle without permission. Do not leave the car or the animal until the proper authorities have arrived. They will have questions that they’d like for you to answer for their report.

Always be sure to have a plan in action for keeping your pets safe and cool when taking them along for errands, a beach day, or just going along for a quick ride. If you don’t, you could potentially face a misdemeanor charge if you leave your pet unattended in your car without proper care. From one responsible pet owner to another, please don’t do this to your pet.

At the Dellutri Law Group, we strive to educate our clients and fellow Floridians on topics which are important to them and their families. We want to protect as many people as we can from harm by constantly reminding them to be vigilant of their surroundings. If you can prevent a problem, we believe you should do so. To date, we cannot be sure how many accidents or injuries that we have prevented by sharing our stories, but, if we have prevented one person from injury or death, we believe it to be a victory.

Further Reading: