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Accidents and Animals: Pet Hit and Run Laws

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 23, 2015 2:59 PM

There generally are not specific criminal laws regarding hitting a dog or other pet with a car and fleeing, as there are with people. But you may be cited for animal cruelty or for ignoring property damage notification obligations for failure to report hitting a pet in some states.

Penalties for accidentally hitting a pet with a car depend on the breadth of state animal cruelty laws, which are based either on intentional acts or failure to act on behalf of an animal, as well as on state hit and run statutes and the definition of property. The California Vehicle Code, for example, provides that failure to report damage to property after an accident is a misdemeanor, and pets are -- in another statute -- defined as property.

According to some reports, there are a million animals killed on American roads every single day, so let's look at what you should do if you find one.

Be Prepared

According to the Cat Depot, a non-profit organization for cats in Florida, you should travel prepared in case of an animal emergency. The organizations suggests keeping leather gloves, dog leashes, blankets or towels, a shovel, a pet first aid kit, and a folded cardboard box in your car.

Also keep the phone numbers of your local animal care services handy so you can easily reach someone if you find an animal in need on the road. If you come across a big animal, let the service know where you are and, if possible, try to ensure that the animal is not a hazard.

Cat Depot suggests trying to move the animal or flagging down other drivers for help with this. However, doing so is a risk. Be careful! Use your judgment and try not to make the situation more dangerous. If you cannot easily do anything with the animal, do not risk harm to yourself.

If you come across a live animal, also be extremely careful. A hurt animal will lash out and is unlikely to recognize that you seek to help. Again, call animal services if you are dealing with a large creature and provide a precise location. If you are dealing with a small creature, use caution. If you can do so safely, deliver the animal to a local veterinarian.

Hit and Runs

Animals are hit regularly by vehicles. Today in Miami, police are looking for a hit-and-run driver who left the scene of an accident where a 33-year-old martial arts instructor was left to die. The victim was walking his dog when he was hit by a car, according to CBS News Miami.

The victim's dog -- a shelter pet adopted six months ago -- let the man's mother know that something was wrong when he came home alone. Now the mother is praying that someone will find the driver who abandoned her son on the road.

If you are in an accident and hit someone, do not flee. If you are accused of leaving the scene or any other crime, speak to an attorney. Keep in mind that even if you are not cited, there are also civil suits in which pet owners sue for the wrongful death or abuse of an animal .

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