As of January first, a new law came into effect in California that makes it legal for citizens to smash the windows of parked cars if there’s an animal inside that appears to be suffering. AB 797 protects animals’ well-being by making sure that, if an animal appears to be suffering and the only way to help them is to break a vehicle’s window, the citizen doing so needn’t fear prosecution.

With laws like this, there are considerable “ifs” involved, of course. One can’t simply walk up, see an animal in a car and smash the window open. According to the bill, if an individual comes across an animal inside a car on a hot day and wants to help them, they must first call the police and wait for them to arrive. Police have methods for entering vehicles without damaging them, and should always be called before taking action oneself. However, if the animal appears to be in “imminent danger,” the police have been called and not yet arrived, it is legal now under AB 797 for a citizen to break the window to alleviate the animal’s suffering or remove it from the vehicle. Once the window has been broken, the citizen must wait by the vehicle in a safe place for police to arrive.

Southern California gets pretty hot in the summer, and the interior of automobiles can get significantly hotter. During these months, it’s probably better not to take your animals with you places unless you can bring them inside with you. When temperatures inside vehicles can reach upwards of 150 degrees, “cracking the windows” isn’t going to help.

Those who are found by police to have left an animal unattended in a car face fines of up to $100 per animal for a first-offense, and stiffer charges for subsequent offenses.