For many, August is a time to relax and take in summer.
Similarly, August is usually a quiet time in the legislature. It’s hot, elections are coming up, and formal business is usually on hold.
While August is a laid back time for people, August is a dangerous time for pets. Summer, even in New England, brings hot days and the risks that come with them.
The Animal Rescue League of Boston’s (ARL) Too Hot for Spot® Campaign annually encourages people to think before taking their pets out on the road with them. A minute to a store can quickly turn into 15 or 20 minutes. On an 80 degree day, a car can reach 120 degrees in minutes. For an animal, this can mean injury or even death.
A bill becomes a law
In the summer of 2016, Massachusetts became one of a limited number of states allowing private individuals to rescue animals from cars when their health is threatened by extreme temperatures.
Passage of this law was not easy, and required determination on the part of legislators, advocates, and the public.
The bill that would eventually become law was actually originally sent to study.
This is often the end of a bill’s consideration in the legislature. Fortunately, this was not the case here.
The bill was removed from study, and sent to the Senate where it passed 39-0. But it was the end of June, and with only a month left in the session, it was up against the clock.
The House saw this bill as a crucial effort to save animals lives, and took the unusual step of passing the bill in August.
After July 31 of even numbered years, any legislator can object to a bill, killing it. However, there was no controversy here, and the bill was passed and signed into law by the Governor in August of 2016.
This law is most known for its authorizing of civilians freeing animals in danger from vehicles. This is only part of the law.
The law, called “An Act preventing animal suffering and death” also limited the amount of time and the conditions in which dogs may be left outside. Prior to this change, dogs could be left outside for up to 24 hours, regardless of weather conditions.
What does the law really say?
View the full text of Ch. 140, Sec. 174F here.
The prohibition on leaving an animal in a car is clear:
“A person shall not confine an animal in a motor vehicle in a manner that could reasonably be expected to threaten the health of the animal due to exposure to extreme heat or cold.”
If you see an animal in a car, you must first try and locate the owner. If you can’t find the owner, call your law enforcement or your local animal control. They will try and find the owner as well, and will enter the vehicle if need be.
“After making reasonable efforts to locate a motor vehicle’s owner, an animal control officer…, law enforcement officer or fire fighter may enter a motor vehicle by any reasonable means to protect the health and safety of an animal”
What if you can’t find the owner and help isn’t arriving in time?
“After making reasonable efforts to locate a motor vehicle’s owner, a person other than an animal control officer, law enforcement officer or fire fighter shall not enter a motor vehicle to remove an animal to protect the health and safety of that animal in immediate danger unless the person:
You have to notify law enforcement or 911.
- notifies law enforcement or calls 911 before entering the vehicle;
If the door is unlocked, you can open the door. If the door is not unlocked, you need to be reasonable. This is not an excuse to damage someone’s car; you must only use as much force as is necessary to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.
- determines that the motor vehicle is locked or there is no other reasonable means for exit and uses not more force than reasonably necessary to enter the motor vehicle and remove the animal;
You have to actually and reasonably think that the animal is in imminent danger in the vehicle. If you see an animal in distress and you truly believe that you have to enter the vehicle to save the animal, you may do so.
- has a good faith and reasonable belief, based upon known circumstances, that entry into the vehicle is reasonably necessary to prevent imminent danger or harm to the animal; and
You must stay with the animal until law enforcement or another first responder arrives.
- remains with the animal in a safe location in reasonable proximity to the vehicle until law enforcement or another first responder arrives.
This is the part of the law that allows you to break a window to save an animals life. You must follow every step. Not calling law enforcement, causing more damage than is necessary to remove the animal, or leaving the animal is likely to result in you being held responsible for the damage to the vehicle. Additionally, there must really be an animal in distress.
“A person who removes an animal from a motor vehicle pursuant to subsection (e) shall be immune from criminal or civil liability that might otherwise result from the removal.”
The law empowers individuals to save animals in distress from hot cars. ARL continues to advocate for people to think about what their trip entails before they bring their furry friends along—and never leave an animal unattended in a car!