Leaving an Animal locked in a hot car: Is it illegal and what can you do?

With summer now approaching and the weather beginning to warm, it is unfortunate that we will begin to see news articles on not only animals but children being left in hot cars across the country. This article only seeks to deal with the animals, the penalties for those who leave them unattended in hot cars and what you should be mindful of as a concerned person if you come across animal in distress.

Risks of Leaving an Animal in Your Car

According to the RSPCA, tests conducted by Melbourne’s Metropolitan Ambulance Service on a 29 degree day with the car’s air conditioning having cooled the interior to a comfortable 20 degrees showed it took just 10 minutes for the temperature to more than double to 44 degrees. In a further 10 minutes it had tripled to a deadly 60.2 degrees. As with humans, exposure to these types of temperatures can be extremely dangerous.

Penalties for Offenders

Section 9 of the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 makes it an offence to commit a number of behaviours towards animals.

The act of leaving a dog or other animal confined in a hot car for a period of time can cause, or is likely to cause, unreasonable pain and suffering can amount to a charge of Cruelty under section 9. The circumstances surrounding the animal being left would all be considered. For example, if it was a 25 degree day and you left the dog in the car with no water for an hour, it is fair to say that a charge of Cruelty may apply. The penalty for a charge of Cruelty can be a maximum fine of $40,297.50 or 12 months in prison.

If, leaving the animal in the car results in the ‘death or serious disablement of the animal’, that person can be charged with committing aggravated cruelty under section 10 of the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Act. The maximum penalty here is doubled to a maximum fine of $80,595 or imprisonment for 2 years.

What Can You Do?

If you see a dog in a car and you have concerns, you should call the police on 000 immediately and explain the situation, how long you believe the dog has been in the car and whether it appears in visible distress.

Taking Action Yourself

Seeing an animal in distress can be confronting and some people may wish to fix the situation themselves, especially if police have been called but have not yet attended and the situation seems urgent.

You should be aware that if you damage the car to gain entry such as breaking a window, the police may charge you with an offence of Destroying or damaging property under section 197 of the Crimes Act which carries significant penalties of up to a maximum 10 years in prison. The offence occurs when a person intentionally and without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another or himself and another.

An argument could be made under section 201(2)(b) of the Crimes Act which raises a defence of a lawful excuse if the conduct engaged in was to protect property belonging to yourself or another and at the time your believed that the property was in immediate need of protection and the means you used were reasonable having regard to all of the circumstances.

Again, without knowing the circumstances of each particular case, it is impossible to know whether applying this defence would be successful or whether any other defence would exist.

If you have any questions about the above information or you would like assistance, please contact us on 5303 0281 or at reception@ballaratlawyers.net.au.

The information on this website is of a general nature only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for individual advice about your particular circumstances.

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