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Verify: Does Georgia law protect Good Samaritans who rescue an animal from a hot car?

Whether or not you have immunity depends on where you live.

A dramatic moment caught on officers' body camera: Duluth police rescuing a dog from a hot car, and people flooded our Facebook page with comments.

So what are the laws when it comes to stepping in? Turns out, it depends on where you live.

According to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center, 31 states have laws that either prohibit leaving an animal in a vehicle under dangerous conditions or give Good Samaritans immunity for rescuing a distressed animal from a car.

In Georgia, a new state law effective July 1 gives such immunity to law enforcement who damage cars when rescuing people or pets.

But what about Good Samaritans who come across a pet in a hot car? Investigator Joseph Latosky with Atlanta Police clarified.

“We don't want a citizen to take matters into their own hands because it opens up a liability for them,” Latosky said. “They're not covered under the law where an officer or animal control officer is."

A bill sponsored by Georgia Senator Kay Kirkpatrick aimed to limit liability to anyone trying to rescue an animals from a hot car. Senate Bill 32, which passed the Georgia Senate, would have extended the same protection the state already has for someone rescuing a child.  

“SB 32 [would] have simply added animals to the Good Samaritan protection from civil liability for people rescuing animals in good faith from a hot car,” Kirkpatrick  told 11Alive in an email. “We already have protection in place for rescuing individuals. 14 other states have protection for this.”

Despite efforts, the bill failed in the Georgia House of Legislatures.  

“I think we did draw some attention to this issue and raised awareness,” Kirkpatrick said. “As you know, we see a few animal and still human deaths every summer. It is an important issue and I hope people will just do the right thing. Many times there is confusion and people are afraid to act until it is too late. If it is me I am breaking the window.”

To verify, law enforcement is indeed protected under state law, while Good Samaritans are not and could be liable for damage caused while trying to rescue a pet.

So what can you do? Lotsky said if you come across a distressed animal in a car, call 911.

“If they call 911, and it records a time, we have some type of time frame to judge how accurately that dog has been in the vehicle,” he said.

"Our Animal Control Officers write misdemeanor cruelty citations when someone leaves a dog in a hot car, and if the dog dies our officers get the police involved, and they could be charged with felony animal cruelty," Karen Hirsch with LifeLine Animal Project said. "They've had to break into several cars during July to rescue dogs."

The following tips are also shared by Humane Society of the United States:  

  • Take down the car's make, model and license plate number.
  • If there are businesses nearby, notify their managers or security guards and ask them to make an announcement to find the car's owner. Many people are unaware of the danger of leaving pets in hot cars and will quickly return to their vehicle once they are alerted to the situation.
  • If the owner can't be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive. In several states, good Samaritans can legally remove animals from cars under certain circumstances, so be sure to know the laws in your area and follow any steps required.

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