In 2013 on an 85-degree day at the State Fair in Syracuse, New York, a parking lot full of fair-goers noticed a 2-year-old black lab suffering inside of a swelteringly hot locked car. A crowd gathered as the dog collapsed on the floor of the vehicle and was barely breathing. The crowd was too scared of the legal ramifications of breaking the car’s window to help the dog escape.
Bystanders did call the police and, as they waited, many tried to force the barely cracked window down enough to get the poor dog out. It didn’t work. The discussion of breaking the window came up more than once, but no one knew their rights and no one wanted to pay the penalty for breaking the window if it was against the law.
Eventually a state trooper arrived, but by then it was too late. In the days following the event the debate heated up, fueled by media reports. William Fitzpatrick, Onondaga County District Attorney, was quoted as saying, “There’s absolutely no way in the world we’d prosecute someone trying to save the animal.”
Now two local state officials have proposed an amendment to the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law that would back up the DA’s opinion. The bill would protect anyone, not just police officers, who had to take the necessary steps to open a parked car to rescue any animal trapped inside that was in imminent danger due to excessive temperatures.
New York would be the first state to pass a law that protects animals who are in danger while locked inside a vehicle and the people who take action to save them. Assemblyman John D. Ceretto (R-Lewiston), one of the backers of the amendment, says that the response from the entire country has been astounding since he announced the bill earlier this month.
The bill will require any person who removes an animal from a vehicle to take it to a humane society and leave a note on the vehicle stating where the animal was taken. The bill also requires that the person must be acting “reasonably and in good faith.” It talks about “imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.”
Patrick Oneill, the man who left his dog locked in the car at the State Fair in Syracuse, plead guilty to animal cruelty in May of 2014 and was sentenced to three years of probation, during which he cannot own any animals.