A new law allows folks in Tennessee to smash a window or forcibly enter a parked car to rescue an at-risk animal without liability. Prior to this law, animal lovers were often frustrated over the proper way to handle saving a dog, or other animal, trapped inside of a car on a hot day.
According to the law, published at Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-34-209, there are six safeguard requirements that a rescuer must meet in order to not be liable for the damages. For instance, it must be determined that the vehicle is locked and there is no other reasonable method for the animal to exit the vehicle. Also, before forcibly entering the vehicle, the rescuer must notify the local law enforcement agency or the fire department.
Following the extraction, a written note must be placed on the vehicle's windshield with the rescuer's contact information, the location of the rescued animal and statement that authorities were notified. The rescuer should remain with the animal in a safe location until law enforcement or emergency personnel can arrive.
Veterinarian Matte Haley, of Kinslow Veterinary Clinic in Lebanon, said that the temperature significantly rises inside of a closed vehicle making it hazardous to people and their pets.
Although leaving the car running, with the air condition on, might seem like an alternative - Lebanon Interim Police Chief Michael VanHook cautioned folks about leaving vehicles running. "Even with the doors locked, it is an easy opportunity for someone to steal it," he said. In Nashville, leaving a car running unattended with the keys inside is against the law and will result in fines.
"No animal should be left unattended in a hot vehicle. Leave them at home, if possible," Haley recommended, adding that he sees numerous cases of heat stroke this time of year.
"That kind of rapid increase in body temperature is basically cooking the dog's organs. With heat stroke, pretty much every bodily system is affected," Haley said. "It doesn't take long for organs to shut down."
Haley said most of his patients who suffered heat strokes were not in parked vehicles; they were either outside and overheated or overexerted.
"I had one with a 109-degree body temperature. Usually they are non-responsive, panting heavily or sometimes seizing," he said.
Haley recommended that dog owners provide their animals with proper shade and water when they are outside at home. He also noted that kiddie pools and fans are helpful.
"Just things you would do to keep yourself cool."
Lebanon resident Charity Cruz remembered a restaurant patron leaving their dog inside of the car, without even a window rolled down, while they ate inside for over an hour. Cruz said she called the local animal control office; however, the man returned to his vehicle by the time animal control arrived.
"I think it is one of the best laws they could have passed. If you are going to leave your animal in a hot car, then you deserve to have your window busted out," she said. "People would be a lot less reluctant to leave their animals in the car if they themselves had to sit in the car with no air getting to them whatsoever."