In today's world, it's not uncommon for people to take their pets wherever they go: to the mall, the market, out to lunch. And because this has become so commonplace, people often leave their animals behind in the car, often without giving it a second thought.
But the fact is that leaving your animal in an unattended vehicle may be a crime. California's animal abuse laws prohibit this conduct when the animal is subjected to conditions that may affect the animal's health or safety.
Fortunately, we're here to help. We know that most people who leave their animals in the car have done so with no criminal intent. We understand California's animal cruelty laws and the most effective defenses to help clear you of these charges.
Below, our California criminal defense attorneys1 explain when leaving your animal in an unattended car may become a criminal act.
1. Penal Code 597.7 PC Leaving a Pet in an Unattended Car
Penal Code 597.7 PC California's law against leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle prohibits leaving an animal (or animals) in an unattended car if, by doing so, you endanger the health or well-being of the animal. Under this law, conditions such as
- the weather (is the temperature too hot or too cold?),
- a lack of adequate ventilation (are the windows open or at least cracked?),
- a lack of food or water (will the animal become malnourished or dehydrated?), and
- any other circumstance that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability or death to the animal
could subject you to criminal prosecution.2
It's also worth noting that another California law, Health & Safety Code 122335 HS, makes it a crime to tie a dog to a stationary object under most circumstances. This means that dog owners who need to restrain a dog outside of their home for whatever reason may find themselves caught between committing the crime of leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle and committing the crime of unlawful tethering of a dog.
2. The History of Penal Code 597.7 PC
Penal Code 597.7 PC was enacted in 2006. The California Legislature based this law on the fact that leaving pets in a closed car in the heat -- even for a short period of time -- can cause severe injury and even death.
Even a moderately warm outside temperature such as 72 degrees Fahrenheit can quickly escalate inside a car, potentially adversely affecting the health, safety, and/or well-being of an animal.
And even when the windows are slightly cracked, an outside temperature of 85 degrees can cause the temperature inside the car to reach 102 degrees within ten minutes and 120 degrees within half an hour. These temperatures can cause an animal to suffer brain damage or even death within a relatively short period of time.3
3. Legal Defenses
Because animal rights spark emotional, social and political issues, civilians and officers alike frequently make rash judgments about abuse. The result is that innocent people are, unfortunately, often falsely accused of animal abuse / neglect.
The good news is that there are a variety of legal defenses to leaving an animal in an unattended car that your California criminal defense lawyer can present on your behalf. The most common defense to this charge is that you did not endanger the animal's health or well-being.
As Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi4 explains, "Leaving your pet in an unattended car is not automatically a crime. In order for the act to justify criminal prosecution, you must endanger the animal's health and well-being. This means that just because someone reports you for leaving you animal unattended doesn't necessarily mean you have broken the law.")
Perhaps you were out with your pet in between its meals, knowing that the animal would not need to eat again until you returned. Maybe you just gave the animal water and knew you would return to the car before it needed to drink again. Maybe the weather was mild enough that, with the windows left partially open, there was no risk of your animal overheating or freezing.
Maybe it was hot, but you were only going to be in the shop for a few minutes. Before you returned, an overzealous officer saw the animal -- not knowing that you had just left the car and that you'd be back very shortly -- and acted immediately because he/she assumed that the animal would be in danger if left alone too long.
And because there is no clear cut line as to what constitutes endangerment, we can present the most effective arguments to convince a judge or jury that your act of leaving your pet in your car was not criminal.
4. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing
As long as your animal doesn't suffer great bodily injury, a first-time conviction only subjects you to a maximum $100 fine per animal. However, if the animal does suffer great bodily injury, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to $500 and a maximum six-month county jail sentence.
A second or subsequent conviction subjects you to the same jail sentence and fine regardless of whether the animal suffers any injury at all.
In addition, law enforcement officers (including animal control officers and humane officers) who see an animal in a car that appears to be suffering are legally permitted to do whatever is necessary to remove the animal from the car.5
This means that in addition to the penalties listed above, you may have to pay to repair a broken window or door lock if the officer had to break into your car to remove the allegedly endangered animal.
Finally, because leaving an animal in an unattended car may also be considered an act of animal neglect, prosecutors could choose to file additional charges under the more serious offense of Penal Code 597 PC California's animal abuse law.6 If convicted of this crime, you face up to three years in the California state prison.
Call us for help.
You may also find helpful information in our related article on California Police Dog Abuse.
If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 597.7 PC leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's animal abuse laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.7
For information on Nevada laws on a leaving an animal unattended in a car, go to our informational article on Nevada laws on leaving an animal unattended in a car.
- Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities. Don't hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group to schedule a free consultation.
- California Penal Code 597.7 PC California's law against leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle. ("(a) No person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal. (b) Unless the animal suffers great bodily injury, a first conviction for violation of this section is punishable by a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100) per animal. If the animal suffers great bodily injury, a violation of this section is punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both a fine and imprisonment. Any subsequent violation of this section, regardless of injury to the animal, is also punishable by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500), imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both a fine and imprisonment. (c)(1) Nothing in this section shall prevent a peace officer, humane officer, or an animal control officer from removing an animal from a motor vehicle if the animal's safety appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal. (2) A peace officer, humane officer, or animal control officer who removes an animal from a motor vehicle shall take it to an animal shelter or other place of safekeeping or, if the officer deems necessary, to a veterinary hospital for treatment. (3) A peace officer, humane officer, or animal control officer is authorized to take all steps that are reasonably necessary for the removal of an animal from a motor vehicle, including, but not limited to, breaking into the motor vehicle, after a reasonable effort to locate the owner or other person responsible. (4) A peace officer, humane officer, or animal control officer who removes an animal from a motor vehicle shall, in a secure and conspicuous location on or within the motor vehicle, leave written notice bearing his or her name and office, and the address of the location where the animal can be claimed. The animal may be claimed by the owner only after payment of all charges that have accrued for the maintenance, care, medical treatment, or impoundment of the animal. (5) This section does not affect in any way existing liabilities or immunities in current law, or create any new immunities or liabilities. (d) Nothing in this section shall preclude prosecution under both this section and [Penal Code] Section 597 [California's animal abuse law] or any other provision of law, including city or county ordinances. (e) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to prohibit the transportation of horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry or other agricultural animals in motor vehicles designed to transport such animals for agricultural purposes.")
- See same, California's law against leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle, "Historical and Statutory notes". (""SECTION 1. The Legislature finds and declares all of the following: "(a) Leaving companion animals unattended inside closed vehicles in the heat, even for short periods of time, has caused severe injury and death to animals. "(b) Moderately warm temperatures outside can quickly lead to deadly temperatures inside a closed car, for example, within one hour an outside temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit can cause unhealthful conditions inside a vehicle that can adversely affect the health, safety, or well-being of an animal. "(c) With the vehicle windows left slightly open, an outside temperature of 85 degrees can cause a temperature of 102 degrees inside a vehicle within 10 minutes, and 120 degrees within half of an hour. A healthy dog, whose normal body temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees, can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 for only a short time before suffering brain damage or death. "(d) Numerous organizations and individuals have worked to educate pet owners of the dangers of leaving animals unattended in vehicles in the heat, however, it is well established that educational approaches by themselves do not improve safety behavior. To be effective, educational approaches must be integrated with enforcement activities. "(e) It is, therefore, the intent of the Legislature to improve animal health and safety by both encouraging continued public education as well as discouraging this activity by imposing a penalty upon persons who leave or confine an animal in an unattended motor vehicle."")
- Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi uses his former experience as an Ontario Police Officer to defend clients who have been charged with violating California's law against leaving an animal in an unattended car throughout the Inland Empire including San Bernardino, Riverside, Rancho Cucamonga, Hemet, Banning, Fontana, Joshua Tree, Barstow, Palm Springs and Victorville
- See California Penal Code 597.7 PC California's law against leaving an animal in an unattended car, endnote 2, above.
- Penal Code 597 PC California's animal abuse law.
- Please feel free to contact our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Neil Shouse for any questions relating to Nevada's animal abuse laws. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.