Leaving A Pet Unattended in a Vehicle in California

Learn the legal consequences of leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney now if you are facing these charges.

Can I Leave My Pet in the Car for a Few Minutes?

More states around the US are enacting comprehensive state laws to protect animal rights. Over 30 states in the US currently address the specific action of leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle. One of such states is California. Now, you might wonder if something as innocent as leaving your pet in the car for a quick dash into the store breaks any laws.

The provisions of the law in California are more nuanced than that. The aim is to ensure animal safety and not hinder people who may need to leave their pets in a vehicle. It is important to understand California’s criminal law concerning confined animal endangerment if you have a pet. Breaking the law can lead to severe criminal penalties. 

In this article, we will explain the provisions of the law concerning leaving your pet unattended in a motor vehicle. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney.

Risks of Leaving Pets in Vehicles

It is not illegal to leave your pet in a car in California if the pet is in perfectly safe conditions. However, the danger of leaving your pet in a vehicle or enclosed space is that their well-being is often at risk.

Without adequate ventilation, they could suffocate in the tiny space. In scorching weather, the vehicle could overheat, and they could suffer heatstroke. Similarly, they could suffer hypothermia or frostbite in frigid weather.

Also, although less common, you could leave your pet in a vehicle for too long without food or water, causing them to starve or dehydrate.

These situations are incredibly threatening to the animal’s health and life. So, taking precautions will help ensure that your pet remains safe and healthy.

What Does CA Law Say About Leaving a Pet in the Car?

Section 597.7(a) of the California Penal Code prohibits leaving or confining an animal “in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal . . . or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal.”

In addition, California law allows people to take reasonable steps to save animals from motor vehicles if they believe the animal’s well-being is at risk. If such a scenario occurs, people who rescue an animal in good faith will not be criminally liable for the actions they take to rescue the animal.

However, the person must do the following:

  • Find out if the vehicle is locked or if there is no reasonable manner for the animal to be removed from the vehicle except through forced entry.
  • Have a good faith belief that the animal will be in danger if not immediately removed from the vehicle.
  • Contact a local law enforcement agency, the fire or rescue department, animal control, or other emergency service before forcibly entering the vehicle.
  • Take the animal to a safe location but stay reasonably close to the vehicle until a peace officer, animal control officer, or other emergency responder arrives.
  • Use no more force than is necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.
  • Immediately turn the animal over to the law enforcement officer, animal control, or another emergency responder who responds to the scene.

Additionally, animal control officers, law enforcement officers, fire and rescue service officers, or other authorized humane officers can take all reasonable steps to rescue an animal confined in a vehicle under risky conditions.


Penalties for Leaving an Animal Unattended in a Vehicle Under Dangerous Conditions

A first conviction for violating California Penal Code §597.7 is an infraction. It attracts a maximum fine of $100. However, if the violation leads to the animal suffering significant bodily injury, the offense becomes a misdemeanor. It attracts a fine of not more than $500, imprisonment in a county jail for less than six months, or both. The same punishment is prescribed for subsequent violations of this section of the Penal Code regardless of whether the animal sustained an injury.

How Long Can You Leave a Pet Unattended?

California Criminal Law does not specify how long you can leave your pet unattended in a standing or parked vehicle. Even if you have not been gone for a long time, an animal control enforcement agent who sees your pet locked in an unattended car may assume that the animal’s safety is at risk and intervene.

Some things you can do to avoid contravening the law include:

  • Leaving a window or two slightly open for ventilation and parking under a shade

  • Leaving the heater or air conditioner on depending on the weather

  • Having someone stay back in the car with your pet

  • Calling ahead to confirm if you can bring your pet along to wherever you are going

  • Leaving your pet at home if you are running errands or doing activities that will require you to leave them in your car unattended for a long time

Other Related Animal Abuse Laws

Penal Code §597 prohibits maliciously and intentionally causing harm, torture, wound, or killing an animal. This includes depriving them of necessary food and water for sustenance, failing to protect them from the weather, or otherwise subjecting them to needless suffering.

An offense under this section is a wobbler crime. It can be punished as a felony, attracting up to three years in jail, a fine of up to $20,000, or both. Alternatively, it may be charged as a misdemeanor attracting the same maximum fine amount, up to a year in county jail, or both.

You can be charged under this section of the Penal Code as well as California Penal Code §597.7 for leaving your pet unattended in a vehicle in an extreme health-threatening situation.

Facing Animal Abuse Charges? Call the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney


If you have been charged with animal abuse crimes, you need to take action immediately. Even a minor charge can lead to you having a criminal record. The stakes are even higher if it is a subsequent offense or you are facing a felony charge. A skilled Los Angeles criminal attorney from our law firm can help you fight those charges.

There is no communication barrier when you work with our efficient trilingual team. Hurry now and schedule a free consultation so that we can take your case up and fight for you today.

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