GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Even as we humans endure another hot day, a new state law is on the horizon that would attach stiff felony penalties to leaving a dog in a hot car.
When outside temperatures rise above 80 degrees, it can take only a few minutes for the inside of a vehicle to reach 100 degrees, even if the windows are cracked. The Kent County Humane Society says that can kill a dog in as little as 20 minutes.
“Hundreds of animals are killed every year this way. We want to send a strong message: This is foolish,” state Sen. Rick Jones said.
He and other Michigan lawmakers are working to make sure people know just how dangerous it is. Jones, R-Grand Ledge, teamed up with Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-Meridian Township, to introduce the bill, which got unanimous bipartisan support in committee this week.
“Right now in Michigan, there is no crime for leaving a dog in a car even if it leads to its death. I think we need to fix that,” Hertel said.
The bill calls for graduating penalties starting with maximum of 45 days behind bars for leaving any animal in a hot car. That goes up to one year if there is serious injury to an animal and up to five years if the animal dies.
“I think it needs to be a strict penalty,” Hertel said. “This bill will put penalties for people who knowingly do it but will also educate the public more on what the actual problems are out there and will hopefully save some animals’ lives.”
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said intent is going to be factored in when cases go to court.
“Maximum penalty is five years. If it’s a true first-time offense, quite frankly, the person is probably looking at probation. You’re not going to go to prison for something like this, generally,” Becker said. “It’s got to be a situation where you don’t (do it) accidently. There’s got to be some element of you know what’s going on.”
He said the law reflects changing attitudes.
“This law essentially mirrors what the child abuse statute did a few years ago for leaving a child unattended in a car,” he said.
Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids has a special section focusing on animal law.
“Part of it is just recognizing the value of another living being and that we’re responsible for that,” Tonya Krause-Phelan, auxiliary dean at Cooley Law, said. “So it’s an extension of the same type of care we expect parents and caregivers to have with children.”
Lawmakers say the bill is as much about raising awareness as it about punishment.
“When a new statute is rolled out, we talk about it. Then the community becomes informed on what their behavior should be, so yeah, there’s absolutely an educational component to this,” Krause-Phalen said.
Jones said he is not done. Next, he would like to create a law to give immunity to people who bust into a hot car trying to rescue an animal.