Most readers know that we’ve had a grumble of pugs for years. We lost four in the grumble last year. All of our dogs are rescues, and most of them have some disability: unable to walk well, blindness, incontinence, a perpetually crooked head.
And most of the pugs are elderly, so we expect to lose a few this year. Our youngest is Nellie Bly, at about 2 years old. We have a group of older pugs that are around 10-11 years old. Several came from puppy mills. One was surrendered to a vet tech when his owners took him to be put down because the owner’s granddaughter wanted a different dog (I know!). The veterinarian naturally was not going to euthanize a healthy animal, and about a week later, Peerey came to us.
Pugs are bred to do one thing: Sit with their humans, mostly on their laps or next to them on the bed. All of ours are bed pugs. They snore; we adore.
I say all of this to underscore that Veronica and I know not ever to leave one of our dogs in a locked car, especially during the summer. But every year, we hear stories of the careless owners who leave their dog (or dogs) in the backseat of a vehicle while they run an errand. The errand takes longer than the owner thought, and heat builds in the car. Too often, that kills the pet, just like it does children, and that happens all too often as well.
As of 2019, 31 states had laws that either prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle under dangerous conditions or provide civil immunity (protection from being sued) for a person who rescues a distressed animal from a vehicle.
Alabama – finally – is on the cusp of joining that group.
A bill (SB67) sponsored by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, will allow good Samaritans to rescue pets left in a car if they are clearly in danger from either the heat or cold. The bill provides criminal immunity to civilians and grants civil and criminal immunity to law enforcement officers who rescue an animal.
Important, too, is that bill prevents owners from leaving their animals in a vehicle in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. If they do, they can be charged with second-degree animal abuse.
It doesn’t take long for the situation in a vehicle to deteriorate, either.
Even on a mild day, the heat inside a car can go off the rails. According to reports, if the outside temperature is 70 degrees (f), the interior of a vehicle can heat up to 89 degrees in 10 minutes. After a half-hour, the interior temp can be 104 degrees. Of course, it’s much worse on hotter days.
At 80 degrees, a vehicle’s inside temperature is at 99 degrees; after a half-hour, the animal is trying to survive in a 114-degree oven. And at 95 degrees, not an unusual June, July, or August temperature in Alabama, the inside temp of a vehicle is about 130 degrees.
Humans can’t even survive long at those temperatures.
There are conditions before a good Samaritan can step up, but they’re not unusual in states that already have similar laws: Among them:
There are other conditions that make less sense, however. The bill as passed 33-0 by the state Senate requires the ambient temperature in the vehicle be 99 degrees or higher before a citizen or first-responder can intervene.
I can tell you that a half-hour in a car at 95 degrees will kill a pug; a Lab or Golden might survive that temperature for awhile, but remember, every minute the car’s interior is getting hotter. Pugs are brachycephalic – short nosed – and have trouble breathing outside at 80 or 85 degrees.
Other short-nosed breeds like English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers, have the same issue. It’s one reason why they snort and snore, even in the winter.
Generally, we can tell when a dog locked in a car is distressed, and few good Samaritans are going to be carrying a temperature gauge with them.
Still, the House needs to pass this bill as soon as possible. Spring and summer aren’t that far off, and, no doubt, there will be animals to rescue.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter.
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