Yet another story about unthinking pet owners and hot cars. The Newark Liberty International Airport was the scene of a dog who was left alone in a hot car. Port Authority officers were conducting their usual patrol when they came across a dog who appeared to be in severe distress. Acting quickly they were able to open the car’s sunroof and pull the dog to safety. The dog required some medical treatment, but in the end all ended up well. The next step was to locate the owner of the car, something that took quite a bit of time. Despite a number of announcements on the public address system, no one came to claim the dog. Finally, after more than an hour, the owners responded to the call and arrived to retrieve their dog. However, the owner was denied their dog and was informed of the reasons why. Then the dog was turned over to the Associated Humane society of New Jersey. The latest word is the owners were arrested, taken into custody, and charged with animal cruelty.
How many times do we need to hear about animals being left in a vehicle during the hot summer days without giving them proper ventilation? The simplest solution is to either make sure that they can come along with you and not just for the ride, or leave them at home in a cool, well-ventilated environment. All this thoughtless action did was to expose the dog to a life-threatening condition and ended up with the owners being arrested and charged with animal cruelty. In short, nothing good came of it. Despite some misdirected reporting on other web sites, the owners did leave a crack in the sunroof for ventilation. It is how the police managed to get in the car without breaking any windows to rescue the dog, named Baxter. The unfortunate reality is that the opening of the sunroof wasn’t enough to keep the car cool– not even for 30 minutes. Most airport parking spaces do not have open shady areas, so the owners are directly responsible for this averted tragedy. But based on the available information, it can be asked just how much did they care for their dog.
The incident took place in the state of New Jersey, which is only one of 16 states to have laws on the books against leaving your dog or other pet in your car with the potential of causing serious harm. But oddly, there is no particular pattern, political or otherwise, that can be made from these 16 states. Southwestern states California, Arizona, and Nevada make plenty of sense because they are generally hot throughout the year. But the other states, most which are in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the country, have some of the more moderate temperatures in the country. Absent from the list are a large swath of the Southern states (excluding North Carolina), Texas, and New Mexico. While excessive regulation is often more of a problem to communities, many of the non-regulated states have significant pet populations. It can be asked what the value of a dog is, and whether making it mandatory to microchip your dog is a potential solution to the problem. What is clear is that most states do not consider this to be a major problem but definitely should.
Specific to the New Jersey law, it states that a person found guilty of animal cruelty as defined by the statutes: The amount for each person to be fined for each specific violation will be no less than $250 and no more than $1000 per act. In addition, there is the possibility of adding a jail sentence of not more than 6 months which can be added to the fine at the discretion of the sentencing judge. There is also a sentence requiring the guilty persons to serve at least 30 days of community service with an organization such as the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or a similar organization. Finally, the court can order the offenders to reimburse the costs of organizations or services the incur the costs of treating the injured animal.
So not only do the owners face a minimum fine of $250, they also have to pay any costs related to bringing Baxter back to health. It seems appropriate that people found guilty also have to spend some time with an organization that helps animals as an act of community service. To temper the argument, there are likely people who leave their dog in the car thinking they will only be a few minutes before they return. There is no harm intended, but those few minutes turn into quarters of an hour or more because of slow cashiers, crowded places, and unexpected events. Dogs, loyal creatures that they are, tend not to bark or make a ruckus even when they are suffering. (Maybe dogs should be trained to make some noise when they begin to feel the heat.) Though this idea can be abused, there should be some room for owners who demonstrate they love their dog and just got careless. Perhaps this is a reason for only one-third of states have hot car laws in place.
But kudos should be given to every law enforcement officer who does their daily duty to enforce the law and works to keep pets of all kinds safe and alive. What is interesting about this case is that Port Authority officers Jason Nielsen and Ray Lainez chose to rescue the dog without damaging the owner’s car. While they had every right to given the situation, they chose to be more considerate of the owner’s property than the owners had for their own dog. It would be nice to say that there was a happy ending to this story, but the owners definitely lost out because they either didn’t care or got careless.