Social Media Claim

Dog in hot car rescue claims are false

A Facebook post claims police are advising people they’ll be exempt from criminal damage charges if they smash a car window to free a dog trapped in a hot car.

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from January 4, 2017 by an Australian user which claims police are advising people they’ll be exempt from criminal damage charges if they smash a car window to free a dog trapped in a hot car.

The post suggests taking a photo of the dog inside the car, and if possible displaying the current temperature on another phone within the shot.

The full text reads: “The police are now saying if you see a dog locked in a car in hot weather take a picture of the dog and car.. if a person is with you get them to bring up the weather for your area on their phone so you can screen shot the temp then break window.. This way you will not be charged with criminal damage and it gives the police the photo evidence to take the owners to court. Can everyone please copy and paste this information to prevent this cruel act from happening.”

This post has been shared more than 87,000 times and generated more than 1000 reactions and 400 comments.

RSPCA Victoria says a dog can die in a hot car in just six minutes.

The Analysis

While the Facebook post in this instance comes from a Queensland user, AAP FactCheck found an earlier example from a UK user in 2015 who posted to a pets for sale group.

US fact checking unit Snopes investigated the post in 2016 as various versions continued to circulate online.

Police in the United Kingdom and United States both rejected the advice listed in the claim, urging people to contact them or relevant authorities if they saw a distressed animal locked in a hot car.

However in July 2015, around the same time as the claim first surfaced, an extension of Tennessee’s so-called Good Samaritan law came into effect, empowering civilians to take action when removing a minor or animal from a vehicle.

The US states of Florida, California and Oregon passed similar legislation from 2016 to 2017.

AAP FactCheck contacted police from Australia’s five largest states to determine whether there are legal protections for would-be dog rescuers from hot cars.

Queensland Police Service said they would exercise discretion as part of a probe into a possible wilful damage/wilful destruction offence if an official complaint was lodged over a smashed window.

“The outcome would depend on the circumstances,” a spokeswoman told AAP FactCheck.

Victoria Police, NSW Police, South Australia Police and the Western Australian Police Force echoed that advice, noting circumstances would be taken into account.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said a person was “unlikely” to be charged if they deemed the action “justifiable to save the animal”.

With summer approaching, SA Police urged people not to leave children or animals in cars, even for short periods.

“We also note that material is regularly circulated via social media platforms which is not correct, but that public safety would take precedent in relation to children being left in vehicles,” a spokeswoman said.

A WA Police spokeswoman advised people to first make “reasonable” inquiries to locate or contact the owner of the vehicle and authorities - RSPCA, police, rangers or security.

“It is then up to the individual to decide what reasonable action needs to be taken,” she said.

"If an individual wishes to make a complaint to the police or RSPCA, any evidence (including photos) will assist.”

RSPCA Victoria says a dog can die in a hot car in just six minutes.

Asked about the claim of legal immunity for dog rescuers an RSPCA Queensland spokesman told AAP FactCheck: “I don’t think this is true.”

“We alert police and or the RACQ who can get into the car without breaking the window.”

Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan was more categorical.

“This Facebook post is a hoax,” he told AAP FactCheck.

“If you see an animal suffering in a hot car, please speak with the police or RSPCA who will be able to give you advice about how you can help.”

The Verdict

AAP FactCheck found no evidence of a law in any Australian state that guarantees legal protection from criminal damage charges for breaking a window to free a dog from a hot car. While the post has been circulating in Australia, it appears to have originated in the UK where it has also been debunked.

  • False - The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

First published November 28, 2019, 13:11 AEDT