Ordinance will fine owners who leave pets confined in closed vehicles

On hot days, temperatures can reach 100 degrees in seven minutes
By Brian E Soergel | Aug 30, 2018

Summer may be winding down, yes, and school is just around the corner.

But your pets want to remind you that it can still get pretty hot in these parts this time of year, and even more so inside a closed vehicle. The City of Edmonds would also like to remind you of that fact, which is why the City Council recently passed on ordinance with some teeth in it.

In the past, while Washington state statutes provided penalties for leaving or confining animals unattended in vehicles or confined spaces, the Edmonds City Code currently did not.

Now, a first infraction is punishable by a fine of $100; a second one is $250. A third and subsequent infractions are punishable as misdemeanors.

According to Assistant Police Chief Jim Lawless, helpless pets left inside vehicles are an all-too-common occurrence, specifically during the warmer spring and summer months.

The new ordinance gives Edmonds police the ability to cite those who may leave their animals unattended inside vehicles. Previously, the only available charge was animal cruelty, which has a higher threshold for the burden of proof and is automatically a misdemeanor and a criminal offense.

The rationale behind the ordinance – in addition to saving lives – was so that it could be cited into Edmonds Municipal Court and to make sure established penalties are consistent with other animal control ordinances.

“During the summer, we experience approximately three-plus calls for service each week reporting dogs locked in vehicles,” said Tabatha Shoemake, the police department’s senior animal control office.

Shoemake carries an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature inside vehicles.

She said it only takes 10 minutes inside a closed vehicle to reach 100 degrees when the outside temperature is 75 degrees; it’s seven minutes when it’s 85 degrees.

Edmonds has seen its share of 90-degrees-plus days this summer.

“Every situation is different, and the dogs involved behave differently,” Shoemake said. “Older dogs tend to have more of a negative response to high heat. Dogs with shorter muzzles, such as pugs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers, already have difficulty breathing under normal circumstances. When you add heat to the situation, their breathing is labored.”

The first step for any officer who sees an animal inside a closed vehicle under dangerous conditions is to quickly track down the owner.

If that is not successful, and to protect the health and safety of an animal, an animal control officer or law enforcement officer who reasonably believes an animal is suffering or is likely to suffer harm from exposure to excessive heat (or excessive cold during winter), lack of ventilation or lack of necessary water, is authorized to enter a vehicle or enclosed space.

They can remove an animal by any means reasonable under the circumstances if no other person is present in the immediate area who has access to the vehicle or enclosed space and who will immediately remove the animal.

Charging someone would require the animal to be in a situation where it could be or was likely to be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat or cold.

Neither the animal control officer, law enforcement officer, nor the Edmonds Police Department is liable for any damage to property resulting from rescuing a pet.

Generally, Shoemake said, animal control officers will check the temperature in a vehicle and observe a dog for signs of distress. They will enter the vehicle if the temperature is above 90 degrees and the dog is showing signs of heat stress, including heavy panting, glazed eyes, vomiting, dizziness or listlessness.

Does Shoemake have advice for pet owners?

“My advice is to leave your dog at home,” she said. “Not in your car.”

To watch a video illustrating how quickly the temperature can rise in a vehicle, even with the windows down one inch, go to bit.ly/2PcEJBa.


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