Earlier this summer I wrote about a veterinarian's experiment to bring awareness to the dangers of leaving pets in hot vehicles. It's well known that cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures in a matter of minutes, yet these deaths continue to happen--even to those who should know better. In June, Worthy, a dog in training with a North Carolina service animal organization, died after one of the program's managers left him in a hot car. These deaths are extra tragic because they are so easily preventable.
North Carolina has since moved towards signing a law that could help dogs in Worthy's position. Last week the House passed legislation that would give rescue workers permission to break into cars to remove animals at risk because of heat, cold, inadequate ventilation, or other circumstances. Some local ordinances already let police officers break into locked cars to save animals, but this amendment would make that action legal statewide. It would also extend permission to animal control officers, firefighters, and other rescue workers.
If the law is passed, North Carolina would join 11 states in passing this type of legislation. Representative Pricey Harrison, who sponsored the amendment, was hoping for a stronger law but ended up drafting the current version when the initial legislation failed. 14 states have laws that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in a car that would endanger their safety. The penalties range from a $25 fine to a felony for repeat offenders (go New Hampshire!).
Although North Carolina's amendment will not specifically prohibit leaving dogs in hot vehicles, people who do so can still be changed under the existing animal cruelty statutes. The woman who left Worthy in the car was charged last week with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
While the car laws are certainly important, ultimately we have to spread the word on the dangers of hot cars so that dogs aren't put into these situations in the first place. Education is key to prevention.