A new Washington law went into effect July 24, 2015 that allows animal control and law enforcement officers to break into vehicles to rescue pets – but it does not cover good Samaritans.
The law limits or eliminates liability for vehicle damage that animal control or law enforcement cause when rescuing a pet from a car due to extreme heat, extreme cold, lack of ventilation or lack of water. In addition, the pet owner can face a $125 fine. The person who confined the animal in the vehicle or enclose space may also be charged with animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or 16.52.207.
Now we know many of you are saying to yourself, “I don’t care what the law states, I would just break the window and save the pet.” If you make that decision and you break into a car to save a pet, you could face legal or financial penalties for the damage to the vehicle. If you take the animal without the owner’s permission, you could be charged with theft. And keep in mind that you don’t know the animal, which may not react well to you breaking the window, and you could be injured.
What Should You Do?
Call 911! If you see a pet shut up in a car on a hot day in distress, call 911 and explain the urgency. While you are waiting for the animal control or law enforcement officer to arrive, take pictures of the car, the license plate and the pet in distress in the car to provide to the officer. If you don’t have a camera phone, take down the vehicle’s model, make, color, and license plate number. These can be used to report the owner for neglect or irresponsible behavior, and also to identify who the owner is.
Have the Owner Paged. Go into the local businesses or buildings nearby and notify a manager or security guard. Ask that they make an announcement over the intercom with the license plate number.
If the pet owner returns to the vehicle while you are waiting, avoid an altercation. We all want to reprimand the pet owner, but its not worth an injury or even worse, just to feel good about telling someone what a horrible pet owner they are. If the owner leaves before animal control or law enforcement arrive, you have the pictures and you should make a statement.
Monitor the Animal. According to PetMD, signs of heatstroke include restlessness, excessive thirst, heavy panting, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, and lack of coordination. Keep a close eye on the dog for these symptoms, as it could mean that the situation needs to be acted upon very quickly.
What Else Can I Do?
We think this is a good idea. Life-Meter for Pets launched a campaign in Arizona featuring their product – a thermometer that attaches inside a car window. Their goal was to illustrate how fast a car heats up even on a mild day.
“When you display the thermometer, you are sending a message to anyone who may walk by your vehicle in a parking lot that it is never ok to leave pets alone in hot cars,” says Adam Schultz, lead designer of the product. “You are also showing your concern and spreading awareness of these dangers every day.”