New Va. law could protect pets from being left in heat, but how is it enforced?

Capitol Connection

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — A new state law could protect pets from being left in excessive heat, but how is it being enforced?

Chesterfield County Police’s Animal Services Unit had a training session with the Attorney General’s office on new laws that went into effect earlier this month. 

One of these laws requires pet owners to have weatherized shelters for pets that are outside. Usually, Chesterfield County’s officers respond to calls about dog houses. Under the law, these shelters have to be in the shade too if it’s hot. 

Asst. Animal Services Supervisor Steven Ayers says officers focus on teaching pet owners about the safety concerns if it’s the first time they’ve been called to their home. 

“We try to educate more than anything, we try to get them to take care of the situation themselves instead of charging them, but if it comes to we need to charge them, we will,” Ayers said. 

Chesterfield County Police’s Animal Service Unit has responded to dozens of cases each day has the temperatures continued to rise this week. About ten were called in by 12 p.m. Monday.

After receiving the training for the Attorney General’s Office, Ayers says officers started taking the temperature inside and outside the shelters to compare. If it’s too warm for the animal to be comfortable, they will suggest the animal be taken inside. If the owners don’t have a crate, officers will lend them one until the weather changes. When it’s cold, the shelter needs to have a covering over the entrance as well as insulation.

Officers will also check to see if the animal has enough water and if they are having adverse effects from the heat. The new law, though, doesn’t cover what the shelter should be built of, Ayers says. 

“It’s kind of a grey line on what is adequate because some stuff will conduct heat than other materials,” he explained. “But, we just do it on a case by case basis.”

After officers work a case, they will follow up 24 hours to a week later to check on the animal’s condition. If changes haven’t been made, Ayers says then they will consider charging the pet owner and taking the animal. 

This new law also requires pet owners who tie up an animal outside to have them on a tether or leash, that is three times the length of the animal or 10 feet long, whichever is longer. 

You may also remember a bill that passed this year by the General Assembly coined “Tommie’s Law,” named after a dog that was set on fire in Richmond and later died because of its injuries. Now it a Class 6 felony if someone were to maim, mutilate or kill a dog or cat. Before, the animal had to die from its injuries before a felony charge could be filed.  

Richmond-based attorney Russ Stone says Commonwealth’s Attorneys could interpret “Tommie’s Law” and use it in court if someone leaves an animal in a vehicle in serious heat. 

“If the proof established that someone intentionally left their animal in a vehicle for the purpose of causing harm to that animal, that would rise to the level of the felony,” Stone explained. 

In 2016, the General Assembly passed legislation that protects officers and emergency personnel from getting sued if they break into a car to save a pet that’s in distress, potentially from overheating or excessive cold. 

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