CRIME
09/01/2015 02:34 pm ET

Dogs Trapped In Hot Cars Could Be Freed By Good Samaritans Under Proposed Florida Law

"We're a country that loves our pets."

What can you do if you see a dog trapped in a hot car? In most states, if you want to remain within the confines of the law, you call the police or animal control -- and hope they get there in time.

 A bill under consideration in the Florida Senate would let good Samaritans take action -- by way of a hammer -- if an animal is in distress.

The Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety Act was introduced Monday by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R).

 Under the bill, someone who sees a pet trapped in a hot car may "use reasonable force" to get it out. The rescuer would not be held civilly or criminally liable. The person who left the animals in the hot car may be subject to criminal penalties. 

Hukill told The Huffington Post the P.A.W.S. Act was inspired by a multitude of recent stories about animals that were left in hot cars and "suffered injury or death."

“Pets are extremely vulnerable to heat-related injury or death if left in a vehicle, especially on a hot day,” Hukill said in a statement, as reported by a Florida news service. “Individuals who risk their pets’ lives by leaving them in hot cars need to be held accountable.”

There are limitations: The bill wouldn't give wholesale license to go around smashing car windows. Attempts must first be made to find the pet's owner. And then an actual go-ahead to break the glass must be granted by a police officer, firefighter, 911 operator or other law enforcement official.

 Additionally, farm animals seem to be exempted from the bill's protections: "This section does not prohibit the transportation of horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, or other agricultural animals in motor vehicles designed to transport such animals for agricultural purposes."

It's this restriction that gives Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Carney Anne Nasser pause.

"The Animal Legal Defense Fund applauds Senator Hukill for her leadership on this issue," Nasser said in an email, "but encourages the Florida legislature to pass a version of the P.A.W.S. Act that would not only protect dogs and other companion animals from suffering in hot vehicles, but pigs, cows and other factory farmed animals who suffer just as much when subjected to extreme temperatures and deprivation of water during transport to slaughterhouses in overcrowded tractor trailers."

Kate MacFall, Florida state director for the Humane Society of the United States, agrees that this bill codifies the general feeling that "a good Samaritan should be able to help rescue a pet baking to death in an unattended car."

But, she added, "there’s no reason any animal -- whether a dog, cat, chicken or pig --- should suffer this cruel fate." 

Hukill said she is open to finding "ways to make this bill better" that will balance Florida's agricultural practices with animal welfare concerns.

She is feeling confident, too, that companion legislation will be offered in the Florida House of Representatives.

In the meantime, Hukill hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of pets in hot cars, and encourage folks to leave their furry friends home on warm days, instead of risking the animals' lives (not to mention their car windows and a criminal record).

"I think it's needed," Hukill said. "We're a country that loves our pets."

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