New Law Protecting Family Pets Takes Effect January 2015

We have all seen shocking stories in the news about babies dying after being left in a hot car, or less commonly, a cold car. What we do not hear about as often is the number of pets that die every year from extreme heat or cold when left alone in a car for too long or outside for too long.

Most people would never do anything to intentionally hurt their pets, but sometimes mistakes in judgments are made. Is it ok to leave Fido in the car at 4 pm while you run a five-minute errand?  Probably. Even then, however, there could be issues. If it is over 90 degrees outside, even five minutes in the car is too long. You never know what will happen that can keep you away from your car longer than the intended five or ten minutes. You can never be sure something bad will not happen. A new law is an attempt to raise awareness of this issue and lower the incidence of Illinois residents leaving pets in cars.

What Does the Law Provide?

Until now, there were no laws in Illinois that made it illegal to leave a pet in extreme heat or cold. Police officers always had the right to break a car window to rescue a pet, but there were no laws to then bring charges against the pet owner for putting the pet in that situation.  The new law reads:

No owner of a dog or cat that is a companion animal may expose the dog or cat in a manner that places the dog or cat in a life-threatening situation for a prolonged period of time in extreme heat or cold conditions that results in injury to or death of the animal.

The Penalties for Violations

If you are convicted of breaking this law, you will be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. That means you will receive a fine of up to $2500 and up to a year of jail time. The judge does have discretion to impose a lesser sentence. If convicted a subsequent time for this new law, it becomes a Class four felony. A Class four felony carries a penalty of up to $25,000 and a jail sentence of one to three years.

Should You Be Worried About This Law?

All pet owners should be aware of this law. The law is meant to target those people that leave dogs outside for hours or overnight in freezing temperatures, or who leave dogs in cars with the windows rolled up for hours on hot days. Most of us agree that there should be a law protecting animals from those situations.

However, the law does have some grey area that could cause problems for responsible pet owners. What if, for example, you leave your dog playing in the yard on a sunny day and drive to the grocery store? While you are gone, a thunderstorm comes and your neighbor calls the police to report that your dog was outside in an extreme weather situation. Theoretically, you could be charged with violating this new law if your dog suffers an injury, a term also undefined in the bill.

Contact an Attorney Today

This law takes effect January 1, 2016 so it is good to familiarize yourself with it beforehand. If you have any questions, or if you are facing charges under this Act or fear you might be facing charges under this act, the Law Offices of David Freidberg can help you. If you are in the Chicago area, contact us today at 312-560-7100 or email us, and let us help you.