Is It Legal To Break A Car Window To Rescue An Overheated Pet?

Is It Legal To Break A Car Window To Rescue An Overheated Pet?

Picture the scene: you’re strolling down the street on a hot summer’s day when you spot a dog locked in a car, clawing pitifully at the window. It is clearly in distress and the temperature is rising rapidly. Is it legal to break the window, or does the law dictate you allow the dog to die?

Dog in car picture from Shutterstock

It is not uncommon for pet owners to leave their dogs in the car while running quick errands. In the heat of summer, this can cause discomfort, heatstroke and even death. According to the RSCPA, canine fatalities have been known to occur in just six minutes — and that’s with the windows partially wound down.

This is unsurprising when you consider that car interiors can reach up to 70 degrees Celsius in the Australian summer. It’s essentially a torture chamber for any living creature and an extremely grim way to go.

Causing dogs to suffer in this way is considered animal cruelty, which is a criminal offense in Australia. However, it is also technically illegal to break into a car to alleviate their suffering.

There are no Castle Doctrine-style laws in Australia that grant legal immunity to would-be pet saviors. Willfully vandalizing someone else’s property is against the law — even when your motive is righteous.

With that said, if the dog was clearly suffering from severe heatstroke, the police may refrain from laying any charges. (It’s basically down to officer discretion.) Likewise, the car owner will probably avoid legal action if the dog was suffering. Even if they’re completely ungrateful, they won’t want their irresponsible actions brought up in court.

By contrast, if you acted prematurely and the dog was in no immediate danger, you can expect to cop the full brunt of the law. Keeping a dog in an unattended vehicle is not illegal in itself — it only becomes a criminal offense if this action caused the dog to suffer.

If you see a dog locked in a car, carefully assess its behavior before you do anything. If the dog has a bright red tongue, is panting and drooling excessively, vomiting or otherwise acting restless, you may want to act fast and risk the legal consequences. Otherwise, your best bet is to call emergency services. (Yes, a dog trapped in a hot car is considered an emergency!)

If you do end up rescuing a dog with heatstroke — or accidentally leave your own dog in the car — be sure to follow these first-aid revival tips from the RSCPA.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


  • I hate people who think the only thing they can do is *immediately break window*, unless the dog was clearly close to death it requires such an immediate response (I really doubt the 6 minute window also) I would suggest calling the police or other emergency services instead.

    Thats what they’re there for, most of them are just going around “patrolling” anyway, plus it means you can safety help said animal without huge repercussions.

    • @trustnoone
      To be clear, the emergency services are not there to help with animals in hot cars, the most appropriate service to call is your respective animal services branch.

      The Police in specific are “patrolling” to stop your house being broken into among other things and I am sure if you were being assaulted, you would prefer their attendance to your matter rather than lassies sauna.

      Perhaps you need a little more respect for the people that risk their lives everyday so you don’t have to.

      • Agreed. It’s sad so many these days seem to look down on police, teachers, medical workers etc and give terrorists, criminals and dumb animals the greater respect. We’re getting our priorities all wrong.

        • Dumb Dog? Any living thing being harmed by ignorance deserves help. To put them in the same catogory as a terrorist is ridiculous. Get a heart

  • How about if it is a child?

    I’ve often wondered this, but haven’t really been able to find a definitive statement that clearly applies to Australia, and backed up by relevant legislation.

    • Good question. Being a child there would be a whole different set of laws coming into play, not the least of which is they shouldnt have been left alone in the first place. Meaning a law has probably been broken already.

      • That’s quite simple, you must have someone’s consent to perform first aid, they don’t give it, walk away. If they are not in a position to consent, then that is bullet proof as there is implied consent, so long as you don’t step outside of your training you’re very safe. There is also nothing to force you to help either.

  • Even if they’re completely ungrateful, they won’t want their irresponsible actions brought up in court.

    I’d have a thought the irresponsible actions are those of the person breaking the law and smashing the window.

    There is nothing irresponsible about leaving your pet in a car.

    • You left out the preceding sentence: “Likewise, the car owner will probably avoid legal action if the dog was suffering.

      • You left out the part where you are qualified to determine the animal’s suffering. You’re a vet AND San author. Good work

    • I think you’re missing the point…

      There is nothing irresponsible about leaving your pet in a car, but there is a lot irresponsible about leaving your great-dane in you Miata for 4hrs with the windows up on a 45-degree day.

    • Nothing irresponsible about leaving a pet in the car…. really!?! You actually believe that. God forbid you are ever EVER eesponsible for another life with that attitude. If you plan to go somewhere that you can’t take your dog with you then LEAVE IT AT HOME!!!! There is no reason at all to take the dog in the car with you if you plan to it in leave the car. Wake up to yourself idiot!

      • Spoken like a true cat person. So if I take my dog to the park and the Mrs calls on my way back and asks me to pick up some things from the shop, you’re saying I have to come home first and drop the dog off before I can go to the shop? Have you ever even owned a dog let alone had a relationship with another human being? Jeez.

  • Whip out your camera phone and film the animal’s behaviour for a minute or so before taking action. Could help if you get into strife if action is taken against you.

  • Leave the dog and then steal their car to hide the evidence.
    Unless you want a dog. In which case, take the dog too.

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