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VACTF Manual: Chapter 4 - Common Complaints

Animal In Hot Car

Overview

This is a common problem in the warm months and can happen with any animal, but generally involves dogs. People take their animal along for a ride. They go into a store and forget the time, leaving the animal in the hot sun with the car windows closed or opened just a crack. The animal soon is at the point of death from heat exhaustion. NOTE: On a warm day, the temperature in a car can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes-even with the windows partially open.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

Generally, the animal will be desperate, clawing at the window, trying to get out. It will be panting hard with its tongue hanging out - struggling to breathe. In some cases, the animal may be lying on the seat, exhausted, beyond fighting for its life.

What to do

If in your judgment the animal will die if not removed immediately, consider doing the following:

  1. If possible, have another police officer witness the situation. If not, have a competent adult be your witness and sign a statement describing what he observed. This is especially important if you are unable to take a photo of the scene.

  2. Call in by radio and explain what you are about to do. Then open the car door (if unlocked) or break the window (if car is locked), and remove and secure the animal.

  3. Get the animal into the shade. Have someone get wet towels and cool water. Have the animal taken to the veterinarian if it requires further medical assistance. NOTE: When animals are removed from a motor vehicle under these circumstances, they must be delivered to "a humane society, veterinarian or town or municipal pound" (see Title 13, Section 386 (b)).

  4. If a car window has to be broken to remove the animal from the car, consider having the vehicle towed to a garage for security purposes afterwards. You are responsible for the security of the vehicle if the window is broken; however, the owner is responsible for the cost of repairs.

  5. Determine who the owner is and interview him to determine if he should be charged with a violation of Title 13. See also page 227, sample "Seizure from Vehicle Notification" form.

NOTE: Title 13, Section 386 (a) specifically states that "a person shall not leave an animal unattended in a standing or parked motor vehicle in a manner that would endanger the health or safety of the animal." Section 386 (b) goes on to state (in part) that "any humane officer or member of a fire and rescue service may use reasonable force to remove any such animal from a motor vehicle..."

Example 6 - Animal in Hot Car

The Complaint
A store employee called the local humane agency and reported that 2 dogs were in a car in a store parking lot in the hot sun. He said he had seen the car there several times before with the dogs in it.

The Response

  1. The investigator responded and found the car in the hot sun with 2 dogs inside. The windows were up, and the dogs were panting very heavily. Their behavior indicated that they were in immediate danger of dying (exigent circumstances).

  2. He took photographs of the dogs in the car.

  3. He tried the door and found it to be unlocked. With the store keeper as a witness, he secured the dogs using leashes and removed them from the car. (He would have broken the windows had the doors been locked.)

  4. He moved them to a shaded area and had the store keeper bring water to cool the animals. He poured some of the water over the dogs and gave them some to drink.

  5. The owners returned and expressed great concern for the dogs. They said that the family had lost their home and were currently living out of the car, but planned to get an apartment

Charges Brought
Because of the extenuating circumstances and the concern of the owners, the investigator chose not to charge them, but instead worked out an agreement whereby the owners agreed to leave the dogs in the care of the humane society until they found an apartment.

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