It's humid and hot and you have just a quick stop that you need to make on your way home from picking the dog up from the vet or the groomer. You think to yourself, "It's just one thing." Surely there's no harm in leaving your dog in the car long enough to run inside the store for a gallon of milk? Wrong. Leaving your dog in a hot car for even a short period of time can result in serious legal consequences.

Why It's A Problem

Heatstroke can kill a dog in as quickly as 15 minutes. Most of the rise in temperature inside a locked car occurs in those first 15 minutes too - with temperatures soaring almost 20 degrees in the first 10 minutes.

It doesn't matter if you leave the windows cracked or not. The ventilation only lets a little hot air escape - it doesn't actually cool the interior or give your dog any comfort. Once heat stroke sets in, your dog's internal organs will start to fail. At that point, even removal from the heat often isn't enough to save the dog's life.

What The Law Says

While only 16 states have specific statutes on the books that address leaving a pet in a locked car, many cities and towns have their own specific ordinances - so even if your state doesn't specifically prohibit it, your city might.

In the absence of a specific ordinance, leaving a dog in a locked car could be considered animal cruelty. Animal cruelty laws are more general, but that often leaves them wide open to application in these situations.

In many cases, the heat alone isn't considered the sole issue - it's simply unacceptable to leave the animal without access to water as well.

What Can Happen As A Result

In most states with specific laws on the books, police officers are empowered to take any steps they think might be reasonably necessary to save the life of an animal trapped in a locked car. If you get lucky, the police officer might try to find you in the store. If you don't, he or she may just break your car window or force the lock on your vehicle.

Depending on where you're living, you could be fined, charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and even imprisoned. Many states have increasing penalties if you've been caught leaving your animal in a car more than once.

Naturally, the best way to avoid a problem is to simply not leave your pet in your car for even the briefest of periods. However, if you made a mistake because you were unaware of the potential dangers, and now you're facing charges, contact a defense attorney for help.

For more information, contact Sam Douglas Young Attorney at Law or a similar legal professional.