Almost every week during summer months, Bristol’s police logs include multiple calls from concerned residents reporting animals left in hot cars in parking lots while their owners shop in an air conditioned store.
Unfortunately, short of finding the owner and asking him or her to better care for their pet, there’s been little officers could do. Until now.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee last week signed a new animal cruelty bill into law, which makes it a crime to leave an animal in a hot or cold car, or one without proper ventilation. The misdemeanor is punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to a year in prison, or both.
“No owner or person shall confine any animal in a motor vehicle which is done in a manner that places the animal in a life threatening or extreme health threatening situation by exposing it to a prolonged period of extreme heat or cold, without proper ventilation or other protection from such heat or cold,” the law reads.
The law gives police officers, firefighters and animal control officers the right to break into the vehicle “by any means necessary” to rescue the animal from the hazardous conditions, after making an attempt to find the owner. Rescue personnel is required to leave written notice for the pet owner in the car, informing him or her where to retrieve their animal. The owner can reclaim his pet only after paying all costs associated with the care, medical treatment and impoundment of the pet.
Before the law passed, officers or firefighters who saved animals stuck in hot cars could be charged with a crime and sued by the owner. The new law exempts them from all criminal and civil liability. Officers are allowed to break into the car only to rescue the animal. They are barred from searching the car unless there’s another legitimate reason to do so.
The Bristol Police Department is asking for the public’s help in enforcing the law. The department posted the new law on its Facebook page, asking residents to call police if they see any animal in distress in a parked car.
Warren Animal Hospital sees cases of dogs suffering from heat stroke every summer, according to veterinarian Dr. Katie Halfen. A dog can suffer from seizures, organ failure, brain failure and death if its temperature increases by just a couple degrees over its normal body temperature of 101-102 degrees, which doesn’t take long.
“Anything over 104 is dangerous,” Dr. Halfen said. “Sometimes it can happen as quickly as a few minutes. It depends how hot it is outside and if the car is in direct daylight. The size and breed of the dog also matters.”
If you have to bring a dog in the car, be sure to park in the shade, leave the windows open and periodically head back to the car to let the animals out. Fortunately, Dr. Halfen said, there’s a simple, surefire way to prevent heat stroke in dogs (plus, prevent being charged with the new crime) — “Leave dogs at home. Don’t put them in a car.”