dog in car

The state House and Senate have approved a bill giving rescuers immunity from liability when saving a dog or cat from a hot, unattended vehicle.

If you leave a dog or cat unattended in a vehicle on a hot day, a police officer or other first-responder can legally break into your car to save the animal from the heat.

A last-minute rally Wednesday by legislators in Harrisburg pushed through a bill granting the rescuer immunity from prosecution for damaging a vehicle to rescue a pet.

House Bill 1216 was approved by the state Senate in a 49-0 vote on Wednesday. The House later voted 181-0 to approve a Senate amendment.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature. Wolf’s office has indicated he will sign the bill into law.

The Motor Vehicle Extreme Heat Protection Act relieves a police officer, humane society officer or firefighter from liability for damage caused to a vehicle when rescuing a dog or cat that’s been left inside.

The bill absolves an officer who has “a good-faith, reasonable belief that the dog or cat is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from the motor vehicle,” and who has made “a reasonable effort to locate the driver of the motor vehicle prior to entry.”

The officer also must leave a note for the vehicle’s owner identifying himself and letting the owner know where to pick up the pet.

Nearly 30 states already have laws protecting animals from being left in unattended vehicles on hot days.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, in a joint statement last year, noted the internal temperature of a car on a 72-degree day can rise to 116 degrees within an hour. On an 80-degree day, the internal temperature can hit 99 degrees in 10 minutes.

“Lowering the window has been shown to have little effect on a car’s temperature,” the statement says.

Efforts to pass the bill began in 2015.

Kristen Tullo, director of the Humane Society of the United States in Pennsylvania, was in Harrisburg on Wednesday to lobby for the bill’s final-hour passage.

Tullo called it a “common sense law,” noting that heat stroke in animals “can quickly cause irreversible organ damage, brain damage and, in extreme cases, death in a short period of time.”

The bill follows a package of animal-welfare laws passed by the state Legislature in 2017.

The package — which included Libre’s Law, named for a Lancaster County puppy rescued the previous year from near-death circumstances — updated and clarified existing animal abuse statutes and increased penalties for abusing an animal.