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If I smash someone’s car window to rescue a dog on a hot day, what is the penalty?

John Peaspanen

Q. I’m concerned about people leaving dogs in hot cars in this heat wave. I know the first option is to call the police and/or animal control, but if they are delayed, I would consider smashing a window to save the dog. What are the penalties for doing that?

A. While sympathy for a canine in a hot vehicle is understandable, breaking in is not advised.

Capt. Kenneth Sarvis of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office said, “Breaking a person’s window would be considered property damage, at the very least; and the individual who breaks the window would be responsible to pay for the window. My only recommendation is to call the police or animal services.”

Sarvis continued, “I would not feel comfortable in citizens taking upon themselves, the breaking of windows of other individuals. They should call law enforcement or Animal Services in these situations. As far as jail time, that would be based on structured sentencing.”

Wilmington City Attorney Bill Wolak concurred. When asked about the legal ramifications of breaking into a car, regardless of intentions, he said, “They could be charged with tampering with an auto or destruction of property.”


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Who do I call to report a dog running loose or barking all night?

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5 Responses to “ If I smash someone’s car window to rescue a dog on a hot day, what is the penalty?”

  1. On July 3, 2012 at 10:48 am Jay wrote:

    Just make sure that the owner hasn’t left the car running with the air conditioning on. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. On July 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm Mike wrote:

    So, if I rescued at child left in a car under the same circumstances would I be charge with the same crime? Where is the criminal intent to commit a crime…rescuing an animal human or otherwise from certain death or serious injury is not a crime… We are not required to wait for the dog catcher or a police office to act.

  3. On July 5, 2012 at 9:13 am Al wrote:

    There is actually a danger of the air conditioning failing in a car. A few years back in New Bern a police officer left his K-9 in the back of his car with the air conditioning running which then failed and the dog died. An article appears here:
    Please don’t assume that leaving the car running is safe or OK for the animal.

  4. On July 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm The original question asker wrote:

    I’m not crazy about his answer. The one time I did see a dog in a hot car I did call the police, and was on the phone with the dispatcher for a while. The car owners came out of the store but I had the feeling it would have taken a while for police to show up after I started dialing. Hopefully I don’t have to find myself in the position of breaking the law or allowing a dog to die in a car.

  5. On July 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm Michael Hamlin wrote:

    I had this just happen to me! The car was running, the AC on at 72 degrees, the windows much cooler to touch, at the farmers market, I would come back every 15 minutes to make sure it was all good, when I was finished there were people around my car telling me they were going to break in. My dog was totally relaxed until everyone was at the windows and she kept barking at them.
    I was told I am an asshole and not from around there, and where ever I am from everyone is an asshole.
    I chose to wait for animal control and the police who assured me I did nothing wrong! All the people wanting to break into my car were angry with me and expected me to apologize to them!

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