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Warning: Summer Heat, Enclosed Pets, and Animal Fighting

Four years ago, I wrote about the dangers and possible penalties associated with leaving a pet in an enclosed vehicle on a hot day. The concerns recognized then remain today. This blog restates this important information but also adds information on recent legislation regarding animal fighting.

Heat + Closed Cars = Bad News for Animals

With the long daytimes and warm temperatures of summer, it's good to be reminded about the life-threatening hazard of leaving pets in unattended, enclosed vehicles. Animals left in vehicles on a warm day, even for a short time and even with a window slightly open, can quickly suffer heart stroke and die. In 2015, the Washington State Legislature recognized this issue and gave law enforcement and animal control clear authority to deal with this situation. Additionally, the legislature provided a specific penalty to the pet owner who leaves an unattended pet in an enclosed vehicle, thereby endangering it.

According to a study by San Francisco State University, if the temperature is 72 degrees outside, the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle will be 93 degrees after 10 minutes, 105 degrees after 20, 110 degrees after 30, and 119 degrees in 60 minutes. It does not take long for an animal under such confinement to be in serious peril. One would think that such behavior should be against the law — and it is!

Local Governments Authorized to Free Animals

RCW 16.52.340 makes it a class 2 civil infraction to

leave or confine any animal unattended in an enclosed vehicle or confined space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water.

In addition, the statute provides that a person could also be convicted of animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or 16.52.207.

Legislation from 2015 also provides authority for police or animal control officers to free an animal in these circumstances:

To protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal control officer or law enforcement officer who reasonably believes that an animal is suffering or is likely to suffer harm from exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water is authorized to enter a vehicle or enclosed space to remove an animal by any means reasonable under the circumstances if no other person is present in the immediate area who has access to the vehicle or enclosed space and who will immediately remove the animal. An animal control officer, law enforcement officer, or the department or agency employing such an officer is not liable for any damage to property resulting from actions taken under this section.

Spread the word. On a hot day, an owner should not leave his or her pet unattended in a closed car, even for a short period. Leaving a pet in a closed, hot vehicle could result in a broken car window, distressed or dead animal, veterinary bills, a fine, and even a criminal conviction. If you suspect that an enclosed animal is in distress and the owner is not around, contact your local animal control officer or law enforcement.

HB 1919: New Legislation Against Animal Fighting

Recent legislation (Chapter 174, Laws of 2019, HB 1919) addresses animal cruelty, and more specifically, animal fighting. Under the 2019 changes, a person can be found guilty of animal cruelty if he or she owns, possesses, acquires, or sells an animal with the intent for the animal to engage in animal fighting. It is also unlawful for a person to own, possess, buy, sell, transfer or sell animal fighting paraphernalia for use in the training, preparation, conditioning or furtherance of animal fighting.

HB 1919 makes it a crime for a person who has taken control, custody, or possession of an animal that was involved in animal fighting and subsequently abandons the animal, causing the animal bodily harm or putting the animal at risk of bodily harm.

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Photo of Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.