House OKs bill to let officers remove dogs from hot cars

mschultz@newsobserver.comJuly 19, 2013 

Carrboro police charged the program manager of the Eyes Ears Nose and Paws nonprofit in Carrboro with a misdemeanor in the death of this golden retriever. The dog named Worthy was being trained to be a service dog when he was left in a car with the windows rolled up and later died.

PICASA — Courtesy of Charlene Hayes

  • The danger

    Each year, dozens of children and unknown numbers of pets left in parked vehicles die from hyperthermia.

    Hyperthermia occurs when the body absorbs more heat than it can handle. It can occur even on a mild day. Studies show the temperature inside a parked vehicle can rapidly rise to a dangerous level for children, pets and adults. Leaving the windows slightly open does not significantly decrease the heating rate.

    Here is how quickly a car can heat up in 80-degree weather:

    • 99 degrees in 10 minutes

    • 109 degrees in 20 minutes

    • 114 degrees in 30 minutes

    • 118 degrees in 40 minutes

    • 120 degrees in 50 minutes

    • 123 degrees in 60 minutes

    Source: National Weather Service

— The state House passed legislation Thursday that would give rescue workers explicit permission to break into cars to remove dogs and other animals from hot cars.

The amended animal shelter bill, which now goes to the state Senate, would allow animal control officers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other rescue workers to enter a vehicle “by any reasonable means” when they suspect an animal is at risk because of heat, cold, inadequate ventilation or other circumstances. It would become law once the governor signs it.

The legislation comes the same week that the Carrboro Police Department charged the program manager of the Eyes Ears Nose and Paws nonprofit with misdemeanor animal cruelty after she left a dog in a car with the windows rolled up June 10. The golden retriever named Worthy, which was being trained as a service dog, died the next day.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, the Greensboro Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said she mentioned the Carrboro case briefly on the House floor, though not the dog by name.

Some local ordinances already let police break into locked cars to rescue an animal, Harrison said, but her amendment would make that legal statewide. It also covers animal control officers and others who may not have the same authority.

At least 14 states have laws that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in a parked car under inhumane conditions, and most of them allow some kind of officer to use reasonable force to enter the vehicle, according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University.

Harrison had hoped to add North Carolina to that list but her initial legislation failed, and she settled for the provision allowing officers to enter vehicles. The state does address animals in vehicles within its existing animal cruelty statutes, making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to intentionally injure, torment, kill or deprive an animal of sustenance.

Harrison said she’s heard the animal shelter bill’s Senate sponsors and legislative leaders support her amendment, “so I’m hopeful that we’re gonna be OK.”

Bob Marotto, the director of the Orange County Department of Animal Services, praised the legislation.

“I think that’s a valuable tool for local animal control agencies to have to deal with animals that are in vehicles and distressed,” he said. “Our animal control officers don’t have the explicit power to do that,” and often have to call in police, he said.

Marotto said his department gets about 100 calls about animals in vehicles during the warm-weather months, or about five per week.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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