When Are Pets in Distress?
Last week, this blog reviewed the various laws in Virginia pertaining to the general mistreatment of animals, with a specific focus on animal cruelty. There are a number of ways that Virginia citizens can be charged with cruelty to animals; the first one stated in the law covers “any person who overrides, overdrives, overloads, tortures, ill-treats, abandons, [or] willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain…” on an animal. One way that this law gets applied is prevalent during the time of year that is now upon us: the summer.
The Chesterfield Example:
Last summer, a woman left her dog in the car outside of a shopping mall. Someone saw the dog and called the police, concerned that the dog might be “in distress.” The police agreed when they arrived on the scene. They broke the vehicle’s window so that they could remove the dog.
The dog’s – also the vehicle’s – owner was charged with cruelty to animals on the basis that the dog was left alone in a hot car on a summer day. As discussed last week, the cruelty to animals charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Repeat offenders can be charged with a felony.
A New Law to Rescue Animals:
In July of last year, the General Assembly passed a new law that allowed the police to break into the Chesterfield woman’s car like they did. That law now provides “civil immunity” to any “law enforcement officer, emergency medical services personnel, or animal control officer” who acts in good faith to rescue an animal in distress.
When a citizen saw the dog in the car outside the Chesterfield shopping mall, he could do nothing about it. In fact, if he had broken into the woman’s car by himself, he would have been charged with a crime for his actions. By calling the police so that they could do it, the law was followed – in this case, a law that was barely a month old.
Ramifications of New Laws:
Far-reaching laws pertaining to the treatment of animals allow for scenarios like the one above. Have you ever run inside a store or place of business to drop something off? Did you ever leave a pet – or even child – inside? When does that pet – say, a dog, like in this case – become “in distress?” What if two police officers interpret those time frames differently? Is it even possible to enforce this law consistently?
These are questions that this new law should lead you to ask. Imagine you run into a store to drop something off. Let’s say it takes three minutes to do that. Someone on the sidewalk sees you run in. That someone happens to be a pet owner and strong proponent for animals. How long will that person take to call the police?
You come back out to the car. The animal proponent is waiting for you, and the police have now been called. What do you do?
No one wants to advocate for a pet’s cruel death. Conversely, no one wants to be charged with a crime that is impossible to be consistently enforced, or as in the case of the Chesterfield woman, could result in damage to your vehicle.
Similarly, no one wants to be in a situation where they need a defense attorney. Sometimes, however, you do, and when you do, remember that you can always call or e-mail for a free consultation!
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