It’s A Crime: Prosecuting People Who Leave Dogs in Hot Vehicles

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

It’s a bandwagon we’re happy to see North Hempstead, NY, jump onto. Town supervisor Judi Bosworth is proposing an amendment to the Town Code that would make it a violation and establish penalties for anyone who leaves an unattended animal in a vehicle without sufficient ventilation or water for a prolonged period of time.

We all know that leaving an animal in a vehicle, especially in hot weather, results in suffering, and too frequently in death. Bosworth wants to raise awareness of the issue and hopes the legislation will prevent future incidents of this kind. The town is conducting a public information campaign using flyers, posters and television announcements.

It’s difficult to find out whether it’s technically illegal or not to leave a dog alone in a vehicle in different states, since most have multiple sources for their laws.

Those sources are: Federal Statutes, Regulations from Federal Agencies, State Law, County Law, and City Law. It can be confusing determining which of these laws takes precedence in your particular state. Start here and here to learn more about laws in your own state and town.

In effect since July 1, a law passed in Tennessee protects dogs left in hot cars. An extension of the state’s “Good Samaritan Law” allows people to break into a car if they see an animal trapped inside, just as they can do to rescue a child.

This week House Bill 612 was introduced in North Carolina, making it a Class 2 misdemeanor to leave a pet locked in a car in extreme temperatures or for long periods without food and water, and a Class 1 misdemeanor if that act causes serious injury or death to the animal. In Arizona, ARS 13-2910 makes it a criminal offense for anyone to “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly leave an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury to or death of the animal is a likely result.” And while several cities and counties in Arizona have similar statutes, this bill will make it easier to universally enforce.

If your city and state hasn’t yet enacted strict animal protection laws, mimicking this Tennessee legislation is a goal to advocate for.

Only 16 other states currently have state animal protection laws about this issue and there are gray areas in those laws that don’t strictly define the lengths a rescuer can go to in saving an animal trapped in a hot car without assuming some liability.

(Photo Credit: The Town Of North Hempstead)

We all know the truth: leaving your dog in the car on a warm day is similar to putting the animal in an oven. The inside temperature heats up so quickly that the dog becomes helpless and could suffer heatstroke and die. Dogs feel heat differently from humans. Parking in the shade or leaving the windows partially down is NOT enough. Temperatures in a closed car can rise 19 degrees in less than 10 minutes, and 43 degrees in an hour.

We have to speak up when we see this kind of abuse. The Humane Society of the United States offers this advice: “Alert the managers of nearby businesses so they can broadcast an s.o.s. to locate the pet owner. If the owner does not return promptly, there’s no time to waste. Call your local animal shelter or the police right away. It may seem uncomfortable and intrusive, but you’ll save a life by taking quick action.”

Animal cruelty laws need to be clearer and more readily available to all citizens. People would be more inclined to speak up when they see a dog in trouble if they felt confident that the law is on their side.

It’s up to each of us to look out for pets when their owners use poor judgment that puts them in harm’s way, and to continue urging our lawmakers to follow the lead of states like Tennessee and small towns like North Hempstead in protecting our furry friends.

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