Pets & Animals

You can now bust dogs out of hot cars in California (after doing this first)

One hot day this past June, NBC news anchor Kyle Clark saw a dog who'd been left in a car, who was clearly in distress.

The dog's owner returned before police arrived. Clark — who apologized to the dog, for having such an irresponsible caretaker — said he was tempted to smash the car window with a rock. It's a move that would have earned him praise from many, but could have also earned him a lawsuit, and criminal charges.

Not in California, where a new law — known as the Right to Rescue Act — allows good Samaritans to break into a car to save an animal.

FELIX KAESTLE / AFP - Getty Images
California's Right to Rescue Act allows good Samaritans to break into a car to save an animal.

"We're very excited about the lives this new law will save," Assemblyman Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga), one of the bill's authors, said in a statement on Facebook. "Thank you to everyone who helped us raise awareness of this serious issue and showed their support."

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No one knows for sure how many dogs are left in hot cars every year. My Dog Is Cool, a campaign dedicated to ending hot car dog deaths, estimates that figure at some 13,000 to 27,000 dogs left in hot cars every day in the United States.

Several hundred of these animals will die, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, because cars quickly heat up to dangerous temperatures. This holds even in the fall, while the weather's still warm.

Watch this video from Dogs Trust to see how that looks (then go give your dog a hug):

Or perhaps you'd prefer to see the point illustrated by a hot NFL player?

RELATED: Man breaks window of BMW to rescue dog trapped in hot car

State legislatures only began addressing the issue about a year and a half ago. Tennessee became the first state to pass a good Samaritan law in 2015. Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Massachusetts followed. New York's legislature has a bill that's currently pending.

Now, California is the seventh state to relieve window-smashing pet savers from civil and criminal liability when a few conditions are met, including determining that the vehicle door is actually locked, and reasonably believing the animal is in imminent danger. The bystander must also call 911 before wielding a hammer, and stick around until the police arrive.

No one knows for sure how many dogs are left in hot cars every year.

RELATED: Police use dog rescued from hot car to deliver message about pet safety

Along with a growing list of other jurisdictions, California's law also allows first responders and law enforcement officers to rescue animals in distress from vehicles.

It's a trend animal advocates are cheering.

"When good Samaritans save the lives of dogs in hot cars they are also preventing hardship for the dogs’ owners," Cory Smith, the Humane Society of the United States' director of public policy for companion animals, told TODAY. "One less tragedy all around."

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