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What are the criminal consequences for leaving the dog in the car?

While there are animal lovers of all stripes, it goes without saying that the pets most likely to be found in homes across the Sunshine State are dogs. Indeed, many of us are guilty of going to great lengths and expending great sums in order to ensure our four-legged friends are as happy and healthy as possible.

Given this universal love for all things canine, most people are immediately outraged when they read newspaper headlines outlining how law enforcement officials were called to free a dog trapped in a hot car and left wondering what sort of criminal charges, if any, the dog's owner could potentially face.

Does Florida law prohibit people from leaving their dogs in the car?

There are currently 19 states that expressly prohibit people from leaving dogs in their car. Florida, however, has no such laws on the books.

Does Florida have any applicable law on this issue?  

The state's animal cruelty law does declare that anyone who "carries in or upon any vehicle, or otherwise, any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner, commits animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree." (Here, the punishment is up to one year behind bars or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.)  

While this statutory language is certainly broadly worded, it's possible it could be used as a basis to prosecute someone for leaving a dog in car, particularly where more egregious circumstances are present.

Has there ever been any movement to pass a more specific law?  

In August 2015, State Sen. Dorothy Hukill introduced the "Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety Act" -- or P.A.W.S. Act -- that would have criminalized leaving an animal in an unattended car under certain circumstances. However, the act ultimately died in the judiciary committee.  

Are there any local ordinances addressing this issue?

As it turns out, the Orange County Code of Ordinances expressly classifies animal neglect as "leav[ing] a dog, cat, or other animal unattended in a parked vehicle with inadequate or no ventilation." In addition to the aforementioned criminal consequences under state law, a person cited for animal neglect under this ordinance could face a potentially steep fine.

If you've been charged with any sort of felony or misdemeanor, remember to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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