Legal to break car window for dog rescue?

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- A dog in distress is locked in a blistering hot car and there’s only a few minutes to act – what do you do? What can you legally do?

This story stems from a tragedy that happened on Monday, when a six-month-old pit bull died in central Phoenix after being locked in a car with outside temperatures hitting 110 degrees.

The story has many people asking whether an average citizen can legally break out a stranger’s window to save a dog trapped in a hot car.

Phoenix defense attorney Russ Richelsoph said the answer isn’t black and white. However, there are circumstances when a person can legally break a car window to save an animal suffering inside.

"We have something called the necessity defense," said Richelsoph, attorney with Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, PLLC. "[Police] are going to weigh the value of the window versus the benefit of saving that dog's life."

Richelsoph said the law states that if a reasonable person would agree that breaking the window is the best way to save the dog then, in general, taking action would be justified.

Phoenix police tentatively agree with this, saying true good Samaritans are rarely charged with a crime. However, police caution there are always many circumstances they consider when deciding if someone will be cited for a crime.

Richelsoph said it comes down to a judgment call with several things to consider:

How much distress is the dog experiencing?

Is there time to call police and let them handle the situation?

Can the owner be found quickly to unlock the car?

Is it reasonable to believe the dog will die if you don’t break the window?

No matter what you decide, Richelsoph said to always make sure to call police and let them know what is happening.

"You should really call the police or call the fire department before you do it," said Richelsoph.

Dog dies after being left in hot car