Should Police Break Into Cars To Save Animals?
Earlier this week, a small dog in Rhode Island died when it was left inside a car in the sweltering summer heat. Also, a woman in the same town was warned that she was teetering on a crime when she saved a pit bull from possibly the same fate.
Now, the North Carolina House of Representative has passed legislation that gives police, firefighters and other rescue workers the authority to break into cars if they see dogs or other animals in hot weather. It has been sent to the state’s Senate.
If it becomes law, authorities can enter a vehicle “by any reasonable means” when they suspect an animal is at risk for any reason, not just heat. There are local ordinances in North Carolina that already provide this authority, but Rep. Pricey Harrison, the Greensboro Democrat who sponsored the bill, saw the need to make it a statewide law.
On the House floor, Rep. Harrison mentioned this week’s case of the Eyes Ears Nose and Paws nonprofit program manager being charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after she left a dog in a car with the windows rolled up. Worthy, a golden retriever, died the next day.
Not all states have laws that specifically address leaving animals in a parked car in extreme weather conditions, but most that do allow for authorities to use reasonable force to extract them from a vehicle.
“I think that’s a valuable tool for local animal control agencies to have to deal with animals that are in vehicles and distressed,” said Bob Marotto, the director of the Orange County Department of Animal Services. “Our animal control officers don’t have the explicit power to do that.”
While you’d like to think such careless and cruel behavior is rare, sadly it is not. Mr. Marotto says his department receives about 100 calls during the warm months regarding animals being left in hot vehicles.
North Carolina’s animal cruelty statutes already include language about leaving animals in vehicles, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Harrison is optimistic that her bill will pass into law, saying she has heard Senate legislative leaders are showing it support.