RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New animal cruelty laws that recently went into effect in Virginia look to protect animals from extreme temperatures. As the commonwealth hits a stretch of hot weather, animal control officers are looking to follow the new guidelines.
Effective July 1, animals cannot be tied up or tethered during a heat advisory, freezing or below freezing temperatures, or during a severe weather warning. This also applies during the effective period for a hurricane warning or tropical storm warning issued for the area by the National Weather Service.
The animal law unit is enforcing legal consequences for leaving animals outside without shelter or water. Leaving an animal trapped in a car or exposed to the elements with no shelter can be considered animal cruelty. This is a class one misdemeanor and is punishable up to 1 year in jail.
There have been neglect cases called into Richmond Animal Care and Control on a daily basis for instances such as dogs being found in hot cars. The center has seen tethering cases several times a week.
According to the law, once it gets above 85 degrees outside, the health of animals is in question.
“The hotter the body becomes the more difficult it is for all of our systems to function properly. In extreme cases in heat stroke all of those proteins and enzymes start to break down,” said Dr. Robert Fulton, who is a specialist at Betty Baugh’s Animal Clinic.
According to Fulton, the fact that dogs and cats have a higher body temperature than humans is concerning.
“It’s almost like being cooked from the inside,” said Fulton.
Animals do not have sweat glands. They cool themselves through breathing. With the intense heat and humidity, it’s difficult for them to release the heat from their bodies.
“Any animal that cannot get away from the heat, that is having difficulty, sick animals, older animals, you know some animals are very young. Their mechanisms to cool themselves aren’t functioning at their prime,” said Fulton.
Since the new rules began, Hanover County Animal control has received calls. The department wants to ensure that citizens are aware of the issue and wants to combat the problem by educating the community. The department plans to hand out flyers and speak at various clinics.