Heat wave is here – and so is the need to legally protect our pets

Alicia Prygoski

Alicia Prygoski

Guest columnist Alicia Prygoski is a May 2016 graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. She works on farm animal protection policy initiatives for The Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection Team in Washington, D.C. During her time at WMU-Cooley, she founded a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter and brought many animal law-related events and opportunities to the Lansing campus. While in law school, she was also a member of the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section and a volunteer with Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals. Alicia also received the Wanda Nash Award from the State Bar of Michigan Animal Law Section for outstanding dedication to learning about and promoting animal law issues.

Michigan bill would protect animals left in parked cars

Since graduating from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School this spring, I’ve devoted my time to enacting farm animal protection laws with The Humane Society of the United States. I chose to focus on helping farm animals because of the horrible, systemic cruelty that is inflicted upon them in factory farms and slaughterhouses across the country. In the agriculture industry, farm animal abuse is the norm. My goal is to change that.

However, I know all too well that other animals desperately need protection, too, which is why I’m grateful that Senators Curtis Hertel and Rick Jones have chosen to stand up for Michigan’s pets by introducing Senate Bill 930. This common-sense bill would make it illegal to leave an animal confined in a car under life-threatening conditions, such as extreme heat or cold. Under the bill, penalties would increase depending on the degree of harm suffered, with the strongest being a felony and up to five years in jail if the animal does not survive. Sixteen other states have passed similar measures.

Common sense tells us that leaving an animal in an unventilated car on an extremely hot day will cause dehydration, heat stroke, or death. But what many people don’t realize is that even in milder weather or when the car’s windows are open, our pets can rapidly overheat. For example, on a pleasant 70-degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach 99 degrees within 20 minutes. For most animals, especially those with heavy fur coats or short noses, being confined in a car at that temperature can be deadly.

Many pet parents who leave their dogs or cats in cars are not ill-intentioned. They simply run into the grocery store, assuming it will only take a few minutes – but then a few minutes turn into 10 or 15, and their pet ends up suffering the often fatal consequences. Being a good caretaker includes planning for our companion animals – whether that means leaving them at home, dropping them off at day-care, or calling ahead to find out if the restaurant or store you’re visiting allows pets – it is part of the responsibility we take on when make them part of our families.

There have been too many avoidable deaths in Michigan resulting from animals being left alone in cars. Now that the hottest part of the summer is upon us, SB 930 is needed more than ever to act as a deterrent against people who don’t think twice about leaving their pets in cars as well as ensuring that those who do are held accountable when their pet suffers for it.

As someone who will forever consider herself a Michigander, I am proud of my state’s legislators for introducing this common-sense legislation that will help prevent extensive suffering and save so many lives. The HSUS works every day to protect all animals, from cows, chickens, and pigs to the dogs and cats in Michigan, pushing for standards that allow them to live their lives free from suffering. I sincerely hope that the Michigan legislature passes this bill and becomes the next state to protect animals trapped in hot cars.

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