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Pets + Hot Day + Enclosed Vehicle = Trouble

Pets + Hot Day + Enclosed Vehicle = Trouble

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. The 2015 Legislature has recognized this issue and has given law enforcement and animal control clear authority to deal with this situation and has provided a specific penalty to the pet owner who allows it to occur.

According to a study by San Francisco State University, the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle, if the temperature is 72 degrees outside, 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 now is!

Section 1 SSB 5501 (Chapter 235, Laws of 2015), effective on July 24, 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, it provides that a person could also be convicted of animal cruelty under RCW 16.52.205 or 16.52.207.

This legislation 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 animal control or law enforcement.

Image courtesy of neal whitehouse piper.

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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.