Spring in Alabama can be wonderful. Temperatures warm, but it’s usually not too hot yet. Spring also can be violent. Already this year, even before spring officially started, we’ve seen deadly tornadoes wreak havoc across the state, taking many lives.
One fact about Alabama’s spring, though, is that it won’t be long before we see temps climbing out of the 60s and 70s and into the 80s and 90s. That’ll happen long before we’re ready for it and well before the official start to summer on June 21.
Perhaps well before then, too, Alabama will be at the forefront of an animal-safety trend. Only a few states, including Tennessee and Florida, allow ordinary citizens to break into automobiles if they see an animal in distress. Otherwise, a good Samaritan can get into legal problems.
Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is putting forward a bill that will allow concerned citizens to break into a car to rescue a suffering animal locked inside.
People love to take their companion animals, and especially dogs, with them when they run errands. While many merchants are dog friendly, most still aren’t, unless you’re using a service animal. So what happens is that careless people leave their dogs locked in their cars while they run in the store to pick up a few things. They may only expect to be the store a few minutes, but sometimes they become distracted or delayed, and their dog is roasting away out in their hot, locked car. It doesn’t take much for a dog to die from heat stroke if left for even a little while in a vehicle.
It happens no telling how many times each year, and for those who might be skeptical about somebody leaving their pet in their car on a hot day, don’t forget we hear stories every year about parents leaving their young children locked in hot cars. Many of those children die.
Sadly, the incidents happen more often than one might think.
As described by Alabama Political Reporter’s Gabby Dance, Marsh’s bill protects “people who break into cars to free animals they believe may be at risk if they contact police or animal control before attempting the rescue and remain at the scene until authorities arrive to investigate.”
Many readers know that my wife and I are animal advocates. Even without a law like Marsh proposes, I’d break a window to save an animal burning up inside a hot vehicle. Many of my friends would do the same. Indeed, if we were all out together, probably every window in that car would be broken. Like in a riot.
But we’d also be legally liable for the damages and perhaps criminal charges, even if our actions saved the dog’s life.
Be that as it may, Marsh’s proposal is offering ordinary people a chance to intervene and not be held liable as long as they follow the law’s stipulations. With just about everybody carrying smartphones today, calling the police and waiting around after rescuing the dog are not big asks.
For those who don’t think this is a big deal, just consider: If it’s a comfortable 70 degrees outside, the inside of your car will be more than 100 degrees in just a half hour. That can kill any dog. Try to get in and out of Walmart in a half hour. You’ll be that long in the checkout line.
As the American Veterinary Medical Association reports, the vehicle temps rise even higher and faster as the outside temperature rises. At 80 degrees outside, the inside temperature is already at about 100 degrees in 10 minutes. A typical summer day in Alabama – say 85 or 90 degrees – the heat inside a car is approaching 120 degrees after just 20 minutes.
Still, times are changing, thank goodness. As we put more value on our companion animals, as we get a deeper understanding that these creatures do think and hope and plan and hurt and grieve and love, we want them to be with us as much as possible.
Perhaps pressure from animal lovers and activists will change a seemingly stubborn attitude in the Legislature this year. And maybe one day we’ll strictly regulate – or even eliminate – puppy mills. Maybe we’ll start licensing our companion animals – like many other states – to fund programs to help lower overpopulation and end euthanasia except in medically necessary cases.
Times are changing, thank goodness. I hope.
I know, I know. This is a column I write pretty much every year. Animal protection laws aren’t a high priority in the Alabama Legislature. In years past, versions of this bill have gotten little traction, mainly more from a lack of interest than any real opposition.
The bills simply die from inattention, sort of like a helpless dog, forgotten and alone inside a locked, sweltering car on a cool, gorgeous spring day.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]