Pet-loving Good Samaritans now have legal protection in Tennessee. People who rescue dogs and cats trapped in hot cars often are sued by owners for damaging their vehicles. But under a new law that went into effect July 1, anyone who breaks into a car to save a dog or cat will be protected.

Tennessee already has a law in effect that allows people to rescue a child from a vehicle if they believe the child's safety is in jeopardy. State Rep. David Hawk helped expand House Bill 0537 to include animals.

“It's good for folks to know that they have this ability to take action should a possible tragic event happen,” Hawk told the Johnson City Press.

Hawk said he was prompted to introduce the bill after hearing the story of two dogs that were left in a hot car. One dog died and the other was seriously injured while rescuers waited for help to arrive.

To qualify for protection under the law, the rescuer must take specific steps, including searching for the owner and notifying law enforcement before breaking into the vehicle.

“If you act reasonably, as any reasonable person would respond, you will not be at fault to save a life. You will not be at any fault to save a life and/or animals,” Mike Franklin, Nashville Fire Department chief of staff, told Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN.

Every summer as temperatures begin to soar, horror stories surface of pets left alone in sweltering vehicles. The Humane Society warns that temperatures can skyrocket incredibly quickly on a hot day. For example, when it's 85 degrees out, the temperature inside a car can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After half an hour, the temperature in the car can reach 120 degrees.

If you include Tennessee, 17 states have some sort of hot car laws. In many other states without such laws, pet owners often face cruelty charges.

"From personal experience in my clinical years of practice in California, I can recall treating a patient every summer for heat stroke or heat frustration, a great deal of them from being left in hot cars," says Kwane Stewart, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Humane Association. "Owners are always upset with themselves, but there are no excuses in these instances. This is such an easy fix. It just takes common sense.”

If you're wondering just how it would feel to get left in a car on a summer day with no way to get out, watch as a veterinarian puts himself through the experience:

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Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.