Can I smash a car window to save a dog that is at risk in hot weather?

With temperatures set to soar over the coming weeks, there’s a chance you may come across a distressed dog in a car – but can you legally smash the window to save it from harm? Here’s a quick guide to what you should do.

Shattered glass inside of a car after a car thief broke into the vehicle: Chris Lawrence

We all know that leaving animals in hot cars is extremely dangerous, but accidents can happen. Knowing what to do in such a situation could be the difference between life and death.

Here’s what the RSPCA says you should do in the event of finding a distressed animal locked in a hot car.

What should I do if I see a dog or other animal in a hot car?

First you should ascertain if the animal is in distress. Look for signs of heatstroke that pets in cars are prone to.

The RSPCA says you should look for the following signs that the animal could be suffering from, or at risk of developing heatstroke.

  • Is the dog panting heavily?
  • Is the dog drooling excessively?
  • Does the dog appear lethargic, drowsy or uncoordinated?
  • Is the dog collapsed or vomiting?

What is heatstroke and why is it so dangerous to animals in cars?

If dogs are too hot in a car and have no way to reduce their body temperature, they will develop heatstroke. This condition can become rapidly fatal if not acted on.

What should I do if I suspect the animal is at risk from heatstroke?

If you have reason to suspect the dog or other animal is suffering from heatstroke, or is at serious risk of developing, you should dial 999 and let the police know.

Keep those windows wide open and your animals safe

Keep those windows wide open and your animals safe

What should I do if it looks like the animal is at immediate risk?

If you judge the situation to be critical and the police are not nearby, the RSPCA says that you must have genuine concern for the immediate welfare of dog before breaking a window.

Without proper justification, your actions could be classed as criminal damage.

How can I protect myself if it’s clear I need to break a window to help the dog?

First thing you should do is contact the police and tell them what you intend to do and why.

You should also take pictures and video of the scene and collect names and numbers of witnesses.

Having this information will help ensure you’re covered under (section 5(2)(a) Criminal Damage Act 1971) which allows you to commit damage if you would reasonably believe the owner of the property to be damaged would consent to your actions if they knew the circumstances.

You should also take a note of the car’s registration number.

What should I do with the animal?

If the animal is showing signs of heatstroke, you should follow this emergency first aid guide from the RSPCA.

You can look for clues, such as a pay-and-display ticket to get an idea of how long the animal has been in the car.

It’s not just cars…

The likes of caravans and motorhomes are just as dangerous for pets in hot weather – even though they may take slightly longer to heat up. So, don’t be afraid to act if you suspect a dog or other pet is at risk.

You can also call the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty line for advice on 0300 1234 999. However, if the dog’s wellbeing is in danger, calling 999 should take priority.

Please note – this feature is for advice only and is not intended as a legal document that should be relied on as a defence in court proceedings.


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