New West Virginia bill could allow first responders to rescue animals left in vehicles

West Virginia

Whether it is the scorching summer heat or frigid winter weather, a car can quickly reach a temperature that puts the life of a pet left inside at risk of illness or death.

Sergeant Jamie Blume with the Beckley Police Department explained this is a common call they respond to during certain times of the year.

“In the summertime months like July or August, we do get a lot of calls about people concerned about dogs in the Lowes or Walmart parking lot,” Sgt. Blume said. “Typically we’re able to get the owner.”

If the owner cannot be found, new measures could be taken. The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that will allow law enforcement officers and other first responders to legally break into locked cars and help trapped animals if they appear to be at risk.

There is a loophole. Everyday citizens cannot break into a car to help an animal, but now, firefighters, like Beckley firefighter, James Meadows, law enforcement officials, humane officers and EMS personnel can.

“We have a bag that we can slip in between the door and the jam, and can open it up and keeps the vehicle from being damaged and you just put the little rod in and hit the unlock button and unlock the vehicl,” Meadows said.

While first responders say they would not hesitate to break into a car to rescue a child, for animals they could be at risk of getting sued. Blume said a law like this would eliminate any action that could be taken by an owner.

“When we’re talking about a cat a dog or a pet, there’s a little bit of a hesitancy to do that just because officers might be concerned about the civil immunity or being sued,” Sgt. Blume said. “I think this will take away that grey area.”

Any animal owner who did this would be charged with a misdemeanor, fined between $300 and $2,000, and could face up to six months jail time.

The bill was introduced to the senate yesterday, and will be reviewed by the senate judciary commitee.

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