We’ve all seen it: a dog trapped in a car with little or no ventilation on a blazing, hot summer day. We’ve wished we could do something to help the poor dog. With the hottest temperatures of the year on the way, it’s important to know the rules on what to do.

There are steps we can take, legal and illegal and shades of grey in between those extremes—all depending on the U.S. state and the laws of that state. Here’s where New York stands:

It is illegal in the Empire State (and 18 other states) to break a car window in order to help a dog in distress, UNLESS you are a law enforcement or humane officer. So, if you see something troublesome, call 911.

A few states, like Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida and California allow Good Samaritans to break a car window themselves, but ONLY IF they contact a law enforcement first.

Two states (Colorado and Indiana) allow citizens in these situations to break a car window WITHOUT contacting anyone.

And two states (New Jersey and West Virginia) don’t even allow law enforcement officials to break a car window to save a dog.

If it comes down to a life-threatening situation for a dog, there’s always the devil-may-care option of breaking the car window and dealing with the consequences—criminal charges and a hefty fine.


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