See a child or pet in a hot car? Next steps to consider
While public health and safety agencies have long promoted reminders to not leave children and pets in parked vehicles, especially on hot days, Oregon residents who see a child or animal in a vehicle that is showing signs of distress are protected by law if they decide to break in to render aid.
Last year, Gov. Kate Brown signed HB 2732 into law, which provides protections to people who enter a vehicle by force to remove a child or pet if there is imminent danger. Those people are "not subject to criminal or civil liability" if they follow certain steps, including calling 911, ensuring there is no other way to get into the vehicle, and remaining with the pet or child until police arrive.
Although protected by law, Lt. Joe Hogue with the St. Helens Police Department noted that breaking into someone's vehicle is not advised and should be a last resort. Instead, he recommends calling 911.
"It's one of those things that if you
see it, call us. It's really the same way that if you see any crime in town, call us," Hogue said.
Scappoose Police Chief Norm Miller underscored the fact that leaving children or animals in a parked car on a hot day for any amount of time is dangerous.
"Don't do it. Period. Don't leave them in. Period. Even five minutes is too long in this heat," Miller said.
In terms of when to break into a car to rescue an animal, Miller said it's all about making a judgment call.
"If the child or dog is in distress, then take the appropriate action. The nice thing is that in Scappoose it's a small town, so if you call the police we can usually respond in just a couple minutes," Miller said. "It's a fine line of a judgment call."
Miller and Hogue said their agencies respond to calls about animals or people in distress fairly infrequently. Columbia County Dog Control Officer Roger Kadell noted a similar trend at the county level.
"Surprisingly, the number of calls seems to be down. I think the news campaign that private people can break out windows and remove animals has helped to make people more aware," Kadell said.
Pet owners who leave animals in hot vehicles may not necessarily be issued a citation, but Hogue noted that officers review such cases to determine if criminal animal neglect charges are warranted.