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.