Quick and irreversible harm: Vehicular heatstroke is a silent killer that claims the lives of many innocent pets every year. Even a few minutes in a hot car can cause harm, particularly with the triple-digit weather we are expecting this month. If you leave a pet in a hot car, not only do you risk losing your furry friend, but you could also face criminal charges.
Meet Animal Cruelty Prosecutor Thomas Rinehart: Thomas began his career as a prosecutor after serving 8 years in the United States Marine Corps. He knew that he could not pass the opportunity to step into the role of the animal cruelty prosecutor. Thomas felt this was an important role to have as he had grown up with animals and even has a service dog named Gregor. "These are important cases, the animals involved deserve to have a voice, and intervening early can prevent the behavior from escalating to greater violence."
So, what are the legal consequences? A person who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly leaves an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle and physical injury to or death of the animal is likely to result can be charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor. If found guilty, they may face a maximum of 6 months in jail, $2,500 fine, and maximum 3 years on probation.
However, depending on the facts of each case, a person may be charged with additional animal cruelty offenses that could rise to the felony level. Each case is different and is looked at individually. If an animal passes away or has a serious physical injury due to being left in a hot car, that case may result in felony charges. “It’s not that hot, I was only going to be a minute, or I cracked a window are not excuses for putting an animal’s life at risk.”
Thomas shares that one of the biggest challenges to prosecuting these types of cases is having enough evidence to show that physical injury to or death of the animal is a result of being left in the vehicle. “Officers must gather as much evidence as possible and will often need to seize the animal and have it treated or evaluated by a veterinarian. If the animal does have a physical injury or passes away, the veterinary records are invaluable.” In addition to vet records, officers need to make note of how long the animal was left in the vehicle, the temperature and location of the vehicle and the behavior of the animal at the time it was found.
For Animal Cruelty Detective Heather Krimm, the most challenging aspect of working on these cases is educating the public. “It appears that there is a misconception that if you leave windows cracked open in a vehicle that an animal will be ok. The inside of a vehicle can heat up quickly, and an animal is not safe when left behind.” Detective Krimm shares that she worked a case where a dog had died in a vehicle that had cracked windows on an overcast day, when it was sprinkling outside. “There isn’t a temperature that is acceptable to leave an animal in a car. Please leave animals at home and not in vehicles.”
Final Thoughts: If you can't take your pet with you wherever you are headed, it's best they stay home and not in a hot car. As always, preventing vehicular heatstroke is a community effort. If you see a pet in a hot car, please call 911.