Illinois Bar Journal

August 2016Volume 104Number 8Page 28

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Animal Law

From the Newsletters - Don’t break a car window to save a dog

It's a crime in Illinois. Tell your animal-loving clients to call 911 instead when they see a dog trapped in a hot car.

"Dogs in Cars - the Amended Humane Care for Animals Act"
By Melissa Anne Maye
Animal Law - June 2016

You may have been asked this by a client, or maybe your Aunt Mabel: "If I see a dog in a hot car, can I break the window to let it out?"

Not without breaking the law, writes Melissa Anne Maye in the June Animal Law newsletter. "Although a person might feel that it's worth taking the risk to save the dog, smashing in someone's car window constitutes Criminal Damage to Property," she writes, quoting 720 ILCS 5/21-1(a), which defines it as "knowingly damag[ing] any property of another."

"There is no exception for 'good intentions,'" Maye writes. And if the property damage exceeds $300 - likely in the case of a broken car window - the crime is a Class 4 felony.

"Well-intentioned rescuers need to be aware that only the police, public safety, or humane officers have the legal right in Illinois to break into a car and rescue an animal in distress," Maye continues. "These clients, no matter how ardently they love animals, should be advised to limit their involvement to dialing 911 and reporting the matter to law enforcement."

If the dog has to be liberated by authorities, however, the inhumane owners may get theirs. That's thanks to a recent amendment to the Humane Care for Animals Act, which provides as follows at 510 ILCS 70/3.01: "No owner of a dog or cat that is a companion animal may expose the dog or cat in a manner that places the dog or cat in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time in extreme heat or cold conditions that results in injury to or death of the animal."

Despite the vagueness of some aspects (e.g., does it apply "if the animal is temporarily in distress, but ultimately recovers?" Maye asks), the law does hold out the prospect of criminal punishment for irresponsible pet owners.

Interestingly, "two states - Tennessee and Wisconsin - have 'good Samaritan' laws that allow a person to break a car window to save a pet," Maye writes.

Member Comments (6)

Brilliant article by an obviously brilliant attorney. Come on Illinois - let's get on board with Tennessee and Wisconsin and enact those good Samaritan laws to save more dogs.

The prohibition of breaking a car window to save a pet's life is beyond stupid. I can think of some good penalties for people who put animals in such jeopardy - none of which are legal.

Here are possible unintended consequences of allowing citizens to break out car windows with impunity: 1) Dog is in car, air conditioning is on, responsible owner has kept dog safe, but bystander mistakes dog's barking for a sign of distress - breaks window. 2) Same as #1), except this time responsible owner walks up in time to see bystander break the window. Thinking bystander is trying to steal car or dog, owner and bystander get into an altercation. 3) Same as #1, except this time after window is broken, dog escapes and is injured or killed in the parking lot; 4) Same as #1, except this time dog escapes and is captured by law enforcement and taken to a high-volume kill shelter, where dog is euthanized before owner can find him; 5) Same as #1, except dog is a guard dog and interprets bystander's actions as an attack - dog attacks bystander, injures him, and is deemed a dangerous dog, seized by the sheriff and euthanized.

We need to be very careful about giving people the right to trespass and damage someone else's property. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and animal lovers are some of the most well-intentioned people on earth. As lawyers, we have to keep our cool heads and advise our clients accordingly.

Every 911 call is potential TV breaking news. Inviting more trouble can be making a 911 call that can get the most innocent caller demonized on the evening news as a bigot and hater like Cambridge, Mass' Lucia Whalen. Use of unintended "whistle-blowing" words on a recorded 911 call can get one fired, sued and banished..

As reported in the Redlands Daily Facts, August 17, 2016:

Bill decriminalizing citizens saving pets from hot cars passes state Senate
By Beau Yarbrough @LBY3 on Twitter
Pets trapped in hot cars are one step closer to cool relief.
On Monday, the California State Senate unanimously passed Assembly Bill 797. The bill, introduced by Assemblymen Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would protect citizens from criminal and civil penalties i f t he y f ree a n a n i ma l i n side a vehicle from the threat of immediate danger, as long as they then turn the animal over to law enforcement, animal control or other emergency personnel responding to the incident. Hundreds of pets die inside parked vehicles each year, as temperatures inside spike to far above outside temperatures. (Studies have shown that leaving the windows open a crack only makes a difference of a few degrees.) Leaving an animal (or child) inside such a car is a crime under current California law, but only police officers, humane officers and animal-control officers are allowed to break out animals that appears to be in immediate danger when trapped inside a vehicle.
“The Right to Rescue Act will save lives,” said Steinorth in a news release issued Monday. “In an emergency, good Samaritans should be confident that they won’t be sued for taking heroic actions to rescue a pet. We hope this never has to happen; this effort is also about spreading awareness of the danger of hot cars, and that leaving your pet in harmful conditions is already illegal.”
Before animal-lovers can begin breaking windows, though, the bill requires them to first call law enforcement and give them a chance to respond. But if the animal is in imminent danger, the vehicle is locked and law enforcement will not arrive in time, the bill protects members of the public from criminal or civil liability who damage a vehicle in order to rescue an animal inside and remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives. “I am proud to be working on this bipartisan effort to end inhumane animal deaths,” Santiago is quoted as saying in the press release. “As Assembly member Steinorth and I both came to understand earlier this year, it is u nbe a rable t o sit in a hot car, especially for our pets. AB 797 allows Good Samaritans to safely and carefully rescue animals trapped in hot cars without fear of prosecution.”
AB 797 was inspired by a similar law passed in 2015 in Tennessee.

Trending nation-wide self-help privatization of municipal services is also a tax-payers' revolt against the increasing cost of government employee Cadillac salary and retirement benefits. Such resulting taking-of-the-law into their own hands, however, may be contributing to a corresponding increase in tax-payers' deadly shootings due to the shrinking affordability of municipal law enforcement services. Such taxpayers do risk becoming targets of such shootings.

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