California Penal Code 597.7 PC prohibits leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle if the conditions would endanger its health or well-being. This is usually an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. Though it can lead to misdemeanor charges and jail time if the animal suffers great bodily injury.
597.7 PC reads that “A person shall not leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal…”
Examples of unlawful acts
- leaving a pet dog in a parked car in 100-degree Fahrenheit weather.
- locking a cat in a truck with no food and water for an excessive amount of time.
- leaving an animal in a vehicle in extreme freezing conditions with no blankets.
If you are charged under this statute, you can raise a legal defense such as:
- there were no conditions that threatened an animal,
- you were falsely accused, and
- there was an emergency.
A violation of California Penal Code Section 597.7 is charged as an infraction provided that the animal did not suffer great bodily injury. In such a case, the offense is punishable by a $100 fine.
If an animal suffers great bodily injury, then the offense is charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties include:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $500.
Our criminal defense attorneys will answer the following questions about California pets in cars laws:
- 1. Is it illegal to leave my pet in the car in California?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 597.7 PC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Does a violation of the law mean negative immigration consequences?
- 5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Does a violation affect my gun rights?
- 7. Are there related crimes?
1. Is it illegal to leave my pet in the car in California?
Penal Code 597.7 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to:
- leave an animal confined in an unattended motor vehicle, and
- do so when the act endangers the health or well-being of the animal.1
The law states that the following conditions may endanger an animal:
- excessive heat,
- excessive cold,
- lack of adequate ventilation,
- lack of food or water, and
- other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.2
Further, the law is not limited to dogs and cats. It applies to all animals.3
2. Are there legal defenses to Penal Code 597.7 PC?
Our criminal defense attorneys often draw upon three legal strategies to defend against charges under this statute. These include showing that:
- there were no harmful conditions that threatened an animal.
- you were falsely accused.
- there was an emergency.
2.1 No harmful conditions
You are only guilty under this statute if there were harmful conditions that threatened a confined animal (for example, extreme heat). Therefore, you can always raise the defense that there were no hurtful conditions and the animal was safe and protected from harm.
2.2 Falsely accused
Perhaps someone levied false allegations against you to get you into trouble. In these cases, evidence such as eyewitnesses and video surveillance can be helpful.
Example: Ann and Dave are fighting over their dog during their divorce. Ann calls the police and falsely claims that Dave kept the dog in the car overnight in the freezing cold. The D.A. initially charges Dave but then drops the case when Dave produces security video that shows he never left the dog in the car.
You can always try to show that there was an emergency that made you violate the law.
Example: Jerry puts his dog in the car in order to drive him to the vet. It is 100 degrees outside. Jerry runs inside his house to get his wallet when he trips and breaks his leg.
It is an hour before a neighbor sees the dog and calls the police. Here, Jerry should not face charges because he was physically unable to help his dog or call for help.
3. What are the penalties?
If you violate this statute and the animal does not suffer great bodily injury, then the offense is charged as an infraction. The maximum penalty is a $100 fine.4
If, though, a violation leads to an animal suffering great bodily injury, then the offense is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $500.5
If the charge is a misdemeanor, note that a judge may award you with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
4. Does a violation of the law mean negative immigration consequences?
Some California crimes can lead to a non-citizen defendant being either:
A violation of Penal Code 597.7, however, does not lead to either result and no negative immigration consequences occur.
5. Can I get a conviction expunged?
If you are convicted under these laws, you can get the conviction expunged. This is provided you successfully complete:
- your jail term, or
- probation (whichever was imposed).
6. Does a violation affect my gun rights?
However, the state’s gun laws say that a violation of this statute does not affect your ability to:
- purchase, or
- possess a gun.
7. Are there related crimes?
There are three crimes related to this statute. These are:
- California’s animal abuse and cruelty laws – PC 597,
- transporting an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner – PC 597a, and
- ill treatment of confined animals – PC 597t.
7.1 Animal abuse and cruelty laws – PC 597
Penal Code 597 PC is the main California law that defines the crime of animal abuse. The law makes it a crime to maliciously:
- maim, or
- torture an animal.
Note that you could be charged under both this statute and PC 597.7 since both laws criminalize harming an animal.
7.2 Transporting an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner – PC 597(a)
Penal Code 597a is the California law that makes it a misdemeanor to carry a domestic animal in a vehicle and do so:
- in a cruel manner, or
- while knowingly allowing it to be subjected to unnecessary cruelty of any kind.
While this statute involves the transporting of an animal, PC 597.7 pertains to leaving an animal in a stationary vehicle.
7.3 Ill treatment of confined animals – PC 597(t)
Penal Code 597t is the California statute on confined animals. It says that confined animals restricted by a leash or rope must have adequate:
- water, and
Unlike PC 597.7, this statute involves animals on a leash or rope rather than confined to a car.
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group.
- California Penal Code 597.7a PC. This statute is cited in People v. Williams (Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, 2017) D070512.
- See same.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 597.7c.
- See same.