AKC Updates Canine Legislation Position Statement to Address Concerns of Dogs in Vehicles

2020-02-21 | AKC Government Relations Department

In January, the AKC Board of Directors approved revisions to the AKC canine legislation position statement on Proper Care and Humane Treatment of Dogs to address issues related to legislation that allows private individuals to break into vehicles if they perceive a dog to be in distress.  The revision also extends references to proper care and humane treatment to include transportation.

Background and Impact

In recent years, AKC Government Relations (GR) has tracked an increasing number of legislative proposals that allow an individual to break into a vehicle if they believe an unaccompanied animal inside is in distress. AKC appreciates the good intentions of these “good Samaritan” measures, but is troubled that many are written so broadly that they remove all liability for breaking into a vehicle and removing a dog without first requiring certain safeguards to protect the dog, its owner, and their other property – particularly if the dog was not in distress.

The updated canine legislation position statement articulates AKC support for laws regarding the removal of a dog from a potentially dangerous situation that use a balanced approach requiring consideration of the dog’s breed, all circumstances, the responsibilities of a person who removes a dog from a vehicle (including contacting animal control or law enforcement while remaining with or locating a safe place for the dog, and informing the vehicle/dog owner of the situation), as well as potential unintended consequences for both a dog and a responsible dog owner. 

The Proper Care and Humane Treatment of Dogs position statement has consistently stated that dogs should not be kept in circumstances where their need for safe living conditions cannot be met.  AKC GR continues to promote this principle in reasonable humane care and treatment legislation.  However, in their most common form, “dogs in cars” bills seek to exempt a person from civil liability for property damage or trespass to a motor vehicle if it occurred while the person was rescuing an animal from a car that, due to perceived heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of food or water, could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability, or death to the animal. 

Without additional limits, these provisions could lead to unintended consequences that could harm animals and punish responsible owners.  For example, owners who are found to have taken proper steps to ensure the animal’s safety was protected—such as proper ventilation, air conditioning, blankets, or other protocols appropriate for the breed—should be provided recourse for damages incurred.  Furthermore, owners should also be exempt from liability for their dog acting in self-defense and harming a person who breaks into a vehicle the dog was maintained in.  These protections are especially important if the animal flees the vehicle and becomes at-large.  Such proposals should also require rescuers to contact proper authorities (police, animal control, etc.), stay with the animal until the owner or authorities arrive, and seek immediate medical attention for the animal if needed.

The Updated Statement

The updated canine legislative position statement on The Proper Care and Humane Treatment of Dogs follows. Underlined portions indicate updates as of January 2020. 

Dog owners bear a special responsibility to their canine companions to provide proper care and humane treatment at all times. Proper care and humane treatment include an adequate and nutritious diet, clean water, safe and clean living and travel conditions, regular veterinary care, kind and responsive human companionship, and training in appropriate behavior. The American Kennel Club® believes that dogs should not be kept in circumstances or numbers where these needs cannot be adequately fulfilled.

No dog should be left in a vehicle if its comfort, health, and safety is in question. “Good Samaritan” legislation must provide a balanced approach that protects both the health and safety of dogs and the interests of responsible dog owners. 

Click here to learn more about AKC canine legislation position statements. 

Click here to learn more about AKC’s Care & Conditions Policy.  

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