What Options Should A Citizen Have When They Encounter A Child Or An Animal Locked In A Vehicle?

Myrtle Beach, SC, Orlando, FL May 19, 2015 

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-It’s very obvious that leaving children and animals unattended in vehicles is rampant. We hear stories all the time in the news about children who have lost their lives and animals who have passed from heat stroke. The unfortunate part about all of this is that these deaths could have been prevented.

It should be common sense that leaving an animal or child in a vehicle for ANY amount of time can be very dangerous. But yet it keeps happening. What can a citizen do if they see this? Try and track down the owner of the vehicle? Call the authorities? Of course, finding the owner of the vehicle or calling authorities is something that needs to be done in this situation. However, time is of the essence in these situations. We may not know how long the owners or parents have been gone. The outside temperature also plays a part. In the time it takes for someone to show up it could be too late.

My first thought is to break the window. But as we have all seen in the news you can get charged criminally for this act. How on earth can saving a life entail criminal charges? Now, I do not think people should be going around breaking windows at will; of course searching out the owner should be the first action, but if the time comes and the situation is dire I think breaking a window for an animal or a child is a warranted response.

Raleigh, NC Correspondent-With the summer almost here, there is a big possibility that once again terrible news about little children and animals dying in overheated cars will be around. According to Peta, dogs can sustain brain damage or die from heatstroke after being in an overheated car for just 15 minutes. And, according to statistics from kidsandcars.org, in the period of 1990-2014, 747 children have died from heatstroke. The statistics is especially poignant because it concerns defenseless kids and animals. Moreover, it does not have to be a particularly hot day for temperature rise quickly and dangerously in a car in short period of time. In fact, on a 70-degree day temperature rises to 100-110 degrees in just a few minutes and, of course, the matter is even direr on a hotter day.

What can be done to prevent these deaths? 19 states have current laws regarding unattended children left in cars as well as at what age children can be left home alone and 13 more states are working on developing them. Specific laws and penalties vary from state to state. While many people support these laws, others assert that the laws are too inconsistent. As for animals, according to the article from Animal Legal & Historical Center by Rebecca F. Wisch, it is illegal to leave a pet in a confined vehicle in 16 states. Most laws state that if “An animal that is confined in a motor vehicle under conditions that are likely to cause suffering, injury, or death to the animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or under other endangering conditions,” then it is legal for authorities to enter the car in a reasonable manner. Punishments of owners vary from state to state from fines to being charged with misdemeanor.

Of course, it is extremely important to educate public about dangers of leaving an unattended small child or a pet in a hot car. But what can be done legally by regular passerby when they see a distressed child or an animal in a car, time is running short, and authorities are not immediately available? Most experts advise that it is best to try to locate an owner of a car and contact authorities before taking such drastic measures as breaking into the car. However, some peoples’ first impulse is to get a clearly distressed child or an animal out, but the laws are again different in each state as to whether one can break the window without suffering legal consequences. Tennessee passed the law that it is OK to break the window if one sees a child; Connecticut, New York and Kentucky are proposing it. As for animals, it is advised to try to locate an owner, contact 911 and wait for authorities arrive; otherwise, you can face legal repercussions for breaking into one’s car.

It is a highly divisive issue. Some people believe that all measures to save a child or animal are perfectly acceptable, others are concerned that a passerby might not know specific circumstances as to why and for how long a child or an animal were left alone and thus will break a window for no good reason. It is not easy to find correct solution to this problem, but ultimately it depends on each specific situation.

Asheville, NC Correspondent-Pet owners love their furry friends. They want to take them everywhere with them-to the grocery store, to the movies, and even to the bank. They want to spend every possible second basking in the affection of a fuzzy little critter. Sometimes, this means leaving them in the car, just for a few minutes. This is far from harmless! Every year, 38 children and hundreds of dogs die of heatstroke and dehydration in closed cars. On a 90-degree day, it takes just 10 minutes for a closed car to reach a sweltering 160 degrees! Rolling down the windows helps some, but after an hour in the sun on an 80-degree day, a car can easily get above 100 degrees, even with the windows down. Because dogs don’t sweat as efficiently as humans, they are ill-equipped for that kind of heat. Children, with their smaller reserves of water, can quickly become dehydrated and suffer irreversible brain and other organ damage. Passers-by who see this kind of behavior should note the vehicle’s make, model, color, and license plate number. They should go to the businesses near the parking lot and ask for a page for the owner. Call the police and let them know about the situation. Be sure to approach this situation with calm-someone who loves her pet dearly made a mistake and acted thoughtlessly. They don’t hate their dogs. Matter of fact, these occurrences are relatively rare. Dogs are far more likely to die in shelters or in car accidents than trapped in hot cars. If a child is trapped in a hot car instead, follow the same procedure. If you make a reasonable effort to find and notify the owner, you can consider more drastic measures. In most states, the law will protect you if you have a reasonable belief that a child’s life is in danger.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Animals left in cars seems to have become a habit that pet owners need to break, and some pet owners are more egregious offenders than others and require criminal prosecution. When police or animal control officers have to be called to break a window or door to free an animal from a tightly closed, inaccessible vehicle, the situations concerning the confinement need to be assessed.  Perhaps the pet owner intended no harm, and left the animal for an extended period of time without thought of the consequences, but in order to prevent such occurrences, crackdowns in varying degrees should be made.

If citizens find animals left in vehicles and know that the animal has been confined for a lengthy period of time without visible means of relief, he or she should be able to immediately contact local authorities, animal control officers, or others in the general area to release the animal from confinement.   An even easier solution for any pet owner that leaves an animal for a short or extended period of time in a vehicle would be the use of a dog sitter, dog walker or willing neighbor to watch the animal before they even think of leaving the animal in their vehicle.   If that remedy is not possible, a pet owner must take the necessary precautions before leaving an animal in an enclosed vehicle so authorities are not called to intervene.

When an animal is left for extended periods of time in a vehicle, with no supervision or intervention by the owner, he or she should be subject to fines and pet education classes concerning the care and protection of animals.  If the animal suffers harm whether through an injury, heat or cold exposure, improper ventilation, lack of food or water, even more serious fines and penalties should be assessed.  Extreme infractions of animal confinement should involve removal of the animal from the owner, class attendance requirements concerning state animal abuse laws, counseling concerning the needs of animals and, if necessary, jail time for animal abuse.

When children are placed in similar vehicle confinement situations, serious consequences for such neglect should be brought against the perpetrator.  Many states only allow a few minutes of confinement in a vehicle, and many state laws in general stipulate that police or other authorities can free an unattended child through any means necessary.  In Florida it is illegal to leave a child inside an unattended car for more than 15 minutes while in Tennessee the limit is five minutes.  State penalties assessed depend upon actual harm to a child.  For example, in Michigan punishments extend from misdemeanors to felonies with imprisonment and accompanying fines from $500 to $10,000.  Other states have similar laws.  Needless to say, any time a child is left in a car beyond a certain amount of time, particularly under harsh and dangerous circumstances, cautionary measures must be taken to protect the child, even if it means eventual removal of the child from the home, fines and imprisonment for the depth of the crime.

More than ever, pet owners, parents and others caring for animals and children must face the realization of responsibility for a pet or child.  Leaving either a pet or child in an unattended vehicle for any length of time is bringing trouble for all involved, and innocent pets and children should never have to pay the consequences of forgetfulness or neglect.

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