Saturday, Oct 20, 2018
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Editorials

Protecting the animal protectors

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When neglectful pet owners leave their pets trapped in a dangerously hot car, many passers-by are willing to break the vehicle’s window to save an animal’s life. Those good Samaritans should not have to think twice out of concern they will face legal consequences for their good deeds.

Most pet owners are getting the message that leaving an animal in a hot car — or a cold one — is irresponsible, even criminal.

But in too many states, damaging a vehicle to rescue a trapped and suffering dog or other pet remains legally risky. 

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In Michigan, a bill from State Rep. Beau LaFave (R., Iron Mountain) would protect animal rescuers from criminal and civil liability if they damage a car to save a pet inside.

Michigan already has a law to protect people who smash car windows to save children, but Mr. LaFave’s bill would extend those protections.

Mr. LaFave has suggested that dog owners are more likely to be grateful for intervention from passers-by than to pursue legal action, but he wanted Michigan law to give would-be rescuers peace of mind before they act.

Ohio is one of 11 states that already have similar laws protecting people who damage cars to rescue dogs in distress. But recent events have shown that law is not always applied correctly.

In August a Parma man was charged with misdemeanor criminal damage after using a hammer to break a car window in a Walmart parking lot to rescue a pair of hot dogs inside. Police told him he should have waited.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have considered a law to protect police officers and humane officers from liability when they rescue pets. House Bill 1216, introduced by state Rep. Frank Farry (R., Bucks County) and Rep. Dom Costa (D., Stanton Heights), would allow officers to remove unattended pets in jeopardy from vehicles after first making a reasonable search for the owner.

Legal protections for well-meaning passers-by who notice dogs in dangerously hot vehicles should be standard in all 50 states. And those protections should extend to civilians as well as law enforcement.

Good Samaritans who come across suffering animals should not have to weigh the legal consequences of saving that animal before they act.

A broken window is easily replaced. And it certainly is not nearly as valuable as the life a vulnerable living creature trapped in a sweltering car.

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