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Dogs trapped in hot cars in WA state can now be legally rescued by officers

Now that the summer is upon us, new laws are being passed to ensure the health and safety of pets across the country. WFTV is reporting that in July, a new state law will go into effect in Washington that will permit police officers to break into hot cars to rescue pets they determine to be in danger. The new law also ensures that police aren't liable for damages to the vehicle. Once in effect, there will be $125 fine for leaving animals in a car when it is hot enough to harm them.

According to the new Washington law, leaving animals in a dangerous enclosed space could lead to felony animal cruelty charges. Pets left in cars in hot weather are a serious concern in every state as the temperature goes up around the country. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) says that cracking the windows does not remove the danger of heatstroke. The U.S. Humane Society reports that when it is 72 degrees outside, it can get up to 116 degrees in a car within an hour, leading to irreparable organ damage and even death of your pet, or of a child trapped inside.

They suggest that if you see a pet left in a hot car, take down the car's make, model and license-plate number. If there are businesses nearby, notify their managers or security guards and ask them to make an announcement to find the car's owner. If the owner can't be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive.

Here is a list of laws by state, compiled in 2014 by Michigan State University (MSU), which details the legal rescue suggestions when an individual sees a dog in a hot car, and the potential penalties that might be faced by a member of the public who attempts to rescue that animal. Before Washington passed their law, only 16 states, namely AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NC, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, RI, SD, VT, and WV, had statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in confined vehicle.

According to MSU, "most of these laws provide that the animal must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle. Further, the laws add that in order for a person to violate the law, the conditions have to endanger the animal's life. Some of the statutes specifically state that extreme hot or cold temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation, or failing to provide proper food or drink meet this definition."

Unfortunately this is not a law in Alabama, where on June 23, it was announced that no charges would be filed against Corporal Josh Coleman of the Gulf Shores Police Department, who had left his K9 partner, Mason, in a hot car for so long that the dog died from heat-related complications. Coleman claimed he had the 3-year-old Golden Retriever with him inside at a conference, then walked him back to the patrol car and "forgot" about him.

The official statement from the department was that the officer is the real victim here. "The situation has been devastating for Cpl. Coleman and his family." Similarly, in late May this year, a Hialeah, Florida, police officer was suspended with pay after his two police dogs, a bloodhound named Jimmy and a Belgian Malinois named Hector, were found dead in his vehicle parked outside his home. Reportedly, the officer, Nelson Enriquez, did not call the Davie, Florida, police to report the deaths until late Wednesday evening, despite suspicion that he may have found them hours beforehand. A spokesman for his department said that the officer is "extremely distraught."

Though there is a Florida statute that states that any person who intentionally and knowingly, without lawful cause or justification, causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or death to, or uses a deadly weapon upon, a police dog, fire dog, Search and Rescue dog, or police horse commits a felony of the third degree, there is history to suggest that police who kill their own dogs, even by accident, rarely receive any sort of punishment. Which, of course, leads back to the often cited multiple cases of "dog shot by cop", which has been discussed previously by this Examiner.

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