Whether taking a trip to the veterinarian or just out for a ride, pet owners often transport their animals in cars. A pet owner who fails to take precautions ensuring his pet’s safety in a vehicle may endanger his pet’s life and face legal consequences. In an effort to protect both pet owners and their four-legged friends, Florida has laws designed to ensure the safety of animals when traveling in cars.
Unrestrained Animals in Vehicles
Properly secured animals are less likely to suffer injuries caused by a vehicle’s abrupt movements, or if they're involved in auto accidents. While Florida currently has no laws regarding restraining pets inside cars, one local jurisdiction specifically protects animals riding in pickup truck beds. Miami-Dade County law states that pets riding in the bed of a pickup truck must be confined inside a carrier that is secured to the vehicle, or be restrained with tethers attached to the animal’s harness in a safe and humane way. In Miami-Dade County, the penalty for violating the law on properly restraining an animal in a vehicle is a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days in the county jail.
Unattended Pets in a Vehicle
When the temperature outside reaches 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a car can climb to 120 degrees F in just 30 minutes, so leaving pets unattended in cars on warm days, even for a short time, can cause irreversible organ damage or even death, according to the Humane Society of the United States. In an effort to prevent these tragedies, Orange County, Florida, enacted a law specifically stating that a person may be charged with animal neglect for leaving a dog, cat or other animal unattended in a car without proper ventilation. Leaving your pet unattended is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Read More: Pets & Wills
State Animal Cruelty Laws
In addition to various local rules, Florida has animal cruelty laws stating that a person may be charged with animal cruelty for transporting an animal in a vehicle in an inhumane manner. Furthermore, anyone who unnecessarily causes an animal’s death by depriving it of life-sustaining water and shelter may be charged under this law. Leaving an animal in a hot car or unsafely transporting it a vehicle could result in an animal cruelty charge under state law.
Penalties and Fines
Penalties for violating animal protection laws in Florida vary depending on the jurisdiction. Anyone convicted under the state law against animal cruelty faces a first-degree misdemeanor, possible jail time and a $5,000 fine. A person charged in Orange County of animal neglect could receive a maximum $500 fine and face criminal charges. In Florida, it is legal for someone to break into a locked vehicle to rescue pets that are believed to be in imminent danger of suffocation or overheating. You must call 911 before or immediately after breaking in.
Florida counties have their own rules about leaving pets unattended in cars, and about restraining animals riding in vehicles. It's legal to break into a car if you think that a pet is overheating. If you take your pet with you to the store or anywhere else and can't bring him inside, make sure the windows are down and he has water, and don't leave him there for more than a few minutes.
Jen Gehring is a political consultant and college law professor. She holds a J.D. from American University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Cincinnati. She began working as a professional writer in 2010.