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VACTF Manual: Chapter 3 - Investigating an Animal Cruelty Complaint

Exigent Circumstances

Exigent circumstances exist when an animal may be in danger of losing its life.

Arriving at the scene

Examples of exigent circumstances:

  • Animal is severely emaciated - near death
  • Animal's collar is imbedded in its neck
  • Animal has numerous sores on its body, or obvious inflicted injuries, such as gunshot wounds, arrows, etc.
  • Animal appears to be overcome with heat exhaustion
  • Animal is whimpering and vomiting, or appears too undernourished and weak to stand up
  • In a farm-related case involving large animals such as horses or cows, the animals may be too weak to stand
  • Animal is crying out in pain behind a locked door
  • A building is on fire or flooding and an animal is inside

Police have successfully employed the exigent circumstances rule in the past to remove an animal from such circumstances/conditions. (See also page 10 of Chapter 1, Be Prepared Ahead of Time, "Key Concepts").

  1. Animal is easily accessible
    1. If exigent circumstances exist, and you can remove the animal, consider doing so rather than waiting to obtain a search warrant.

    2. Call the animal control officer or local humane agency to take the animal to a veterinarian. NOTE: When animals are seized without a warrant, a humane officer is required by law (see Title 13, Section 354 (b) 3) to immediately take the animal to a licensed veterinarian to assess its health.

    3. When an animal is taken to the veterinarian's office, take photographs of it there. Get a statement from the veterinarian, documenting the animal's condition.

  2. Animal is not easily accessible: in locked car/or behind locked door
    If you believe exigent circumstances exist, and the animal is not easily accessible, consider doing the following:
    1. If you have exigent circumstances involving an animal suffering from heat exhaustion, such as a dog in a hot car, find a witness if possible, and do whatever is necessary (such as breaking the window) to remove the animal from the circumstances immediately. (See Title 13, Section 386 (b)).

      NOTE: You are responsible for securing the vehicle afterward.

    2. If you can see the animal through the window of a locked building or apartment, or if you can't see it, but hear it crying in distress behind a closed, locked door, consider doing the following:
      1. Break the lock or the door and remove the animal. If possible, have a neighbor witness the circumstances and sign a statement attesting to the circumstances. If a witness is not available, document your actions very carefully. Take photos if possible.

      2. Take the animal to a veterinarian for treatment, if necessary. NOTE: When animals are seized without a warrant, a humane officer is required by law (see Title 13, Section 354 (b) 3) to immediately take the animal to a licensed veterinarian to assess its health.

  3. Entering Property - Some Considerations
    Remember you are responsible for the security of the property that you entered; you must re-secure it after you remove the animal.

    With regard to a person's house, there would have to be an extremely compelling reason for you to break into a person's house without a search warrant; for example, the house was on fire or flooding, and an animal was trapped inside.

Confronting owner/owner reactions

  1. Talk to the owner to determine how this situation came about. Based on the conversation, you might arrest him, issue him a citation, and/or obtain a written statement from him granting the local humane society permission to take over control of the animals.

  2. If the animal has been abandoned, try to find the owner after ensuring that the animal is moved to a safe place. When the owner is found, charge him with the violations of the appropriate sections of Title 13.

« Non-Exigent Circumstances Abandonment »

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