Can you legally smash a car window to save a dog?

As we continue to enjoy an unusually hot British summer, the issue of people leaving dogs in hot cars will unfortunately arise.

Leaving a dog in a hot car can be extremely dangerous and pet owners should avoid doing it. If a dog dies as a result of being left in a hot car, the owner can be prosecuted for neglect or cruelty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If you see a dog in a hot car, your instinct might be to break in to help it, but is that the right thing to do?

The advice from the RSPCA says that if the dog is showing any signs of heatstroke (heavy panting, drooling or vomiting) or if the dog has passed out, you should call 999 immediately. That should always be the starting point.
Under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, a person commits an offence if without a lawful excuse they intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage another person’s property. Criminal Damage can carry a prison sentence. So, by smashing a car window, you could be guilty of Criminal Damage.

Related image

Criminal Damage: Lawful Excuse?

Section 5(2) of that Act says that if the person committing the damage believes the owner of the property would consent to the damage if they knew about the circumstances, they have a lawful excuse. It is reasonable to think that the owner of the vehicle would consent to the window being smashed to save the dog’s life. This could mean there was a lawful excuse for the damage and therefore the offence is not committed.

Before charging someone, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would have to be satisfied that it is in the “public interest” to prosecute. It could be argued that prosecuting someone for breaking a car window after they have exhausted all other options and believing the dog was going to die would not be in the public interest.

Each case would need to be considered on the particular facts present. The starting point should always be making reasonable enquiries to find the owner of the vehicle and if that fails, calling 999 and getting advice from the Police.
This article provides a brief explanation of the law and is in no way a substitute for having a qualified legal professional represent you. If you see a dog in a car and are concerned, the best advice would always be to ring 999 first and take advice from the police.

Don’t leave a dog in a hot car; it is extremely dangerous. Please take care in the hot weather.

If you require any advice or representation with Criminal Defence, you should always ask for Bhatia Best. Having a solicitor to represent you at the police station is always free of charge. Please call us today on 0115 950 3231 or visit