Michigan Bill Would Criminalize Leaving Pets in Car in Dangerous Conditions

As the end of September nears, winter draws closer and with it comes cold weather. That's why animal welfare organizations are reminding pet lovers early that hot cars aren't the only culprits for unwanted pet death; cold cars are guilty, too.
"It could take less than an hour for a dog left in a cold car to get hypothermic," said Elise Ramsey, manager of field services with the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit. Although this depends on the temperature, the dog's age, breed, weight and overall health, she emphasized that often it's "not appropriate" to leave animals in cold cars. The normal range for a dog's body temperature is 101 to 102.5 F. If a dog's temperature drops between 97.6 and 99.6 F, this is considered a danger point and medical attention is necessary. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, anxiety, weakness, slowed movements and searching for somewhere to burrow.
Legislation passed in a state Senate committee in May and is currently awaiting a vote that would make it a crime to leave an animal in the car in harmful conditions.
That includes, but is not limited to, "heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability or death of the animal."
If the animal dies, the punishment would be a felony with up to five years of prison time, otherwise it would be a misdemeanor.
Bill sponsor, state Sen. Curtis Hertel of East Lansing, said, "Hundreds of animals are lost every year because people leave them in cars."
Hertel himself owns a rescue dog named Sampson, said that he hopes this legislation would stop many unnecessary pet deaths and raise awareness.
"Our goal is not to put people in jail, but we're hoping to put some teeth into this and drive up education on the issue," Hertel said, noting that the issue is "near and very dear to his heart."
According to Michigan State University's Animal Legal & Historical Center, more than 25 states have some form of law on the books to protect pets left in parked vehicles.
Beyond leaving animals in the car, Ramsey points to a law in the state of Michigan that requires adequate shelter for dogs who are kept outdoors.
The law  defines shelter as adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions suitable for the age, species and physical condition of the animal so as to maintain the animal in a state of good health.
This could be the residence of the dog owner or other individual. It could be a doghouse that is an enclosed structure with a roof and of appropriate dimensions for the breed and size of the dog. The doghouse should have dry bedding when the outdoor temperature is, or is predicted to drop, below freezing. It could also be a structure, including a garage, barn or shed, that is sufficiently insulated and ventilated to protect the dog from exposure to extreme temperatures.
"A car is not part of that definition of adequate shelter," said Ramsey. "We have a zero tolerance policy. We get calls year-round about dogs being left in cars. If it's below freezing, it's a high priority call and we'll head to those calls first no matter what and remove the dog to safety."
While the bill makes its way, Ramsey reminds people not to take matters into their own hands because breaking a window and damaging a car to rescue a pet does not protect a person from prosecution.
"Anytime someone feels like there's a pet that's not in a state of good health due to a lack of shelter, please contact your local law enforcement office," Ramsey said.


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