August 2016 • Volume 104 • Number 8 • Page 28
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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.