With hot days around the corner, pet owners could find themselves sweating a criminal charge if they leave their animal in an un-airconditioned vehicle.
Thanks to action taken this week by the Granbury City Council at the request of Police Chief Mitch Galvan, police officers will now be able to issue Class C misdemeanor citations in those situations. Class C misdemeanors do not carry jail time but they are punishable by a fine of up to $500.
In addition, officers will be protected legally if they break a window to rescue an animal.
The council unanimously approved an amendment to the “Care and Humane Treatment” portion of its Animal Control ordinance that specifically addresses animals left in vehicles during hot and cold weather.
Until now, there has been little officers could do in those situations. Galvan explained that the department’s only option has been to issue a Class A misdemeanor citation based on the animal cruelty statute in the penal code. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to one year in a county jail.
“A lot of times, these cases don’t rise to that level and it’s also kind of hard to meet the elements for prosecution,” Galvan said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Nevertheless, such situations are a problem, he indicated, and the department routinely receives calls during the winter and summer months about pets left in vehicles. He noted that the department had received such a call that very day. Granbury has experienced springlike temperatures this week.
“We respond and we’ve got to assess whether or not an animal is in danger,” Galvan said.
During a brief discussion with council member Eddie Rodriquez, the police chief indicated that while outside temperatures might be considered mild, the temperature inside a vehicle is hotter.
Sub-section (B) of the addition to the Animal Control ordinance states: “It is presumed that an animal’s heath, safety, or welfare is endangered when the animal is confined in a parked or standing vehicle, without the engine running or climate control system engaged, or in a trailer or truck bed for a period of five minutes or more when the ambient outside air temperature measures about 80 (degrees Fahrenheit) or below 35 (degrees Fahrenheit).”
Galvan said that Animal Control Officer Hugo Gomez and Lt. Russell Grizzard researched related policies that are in place in other cities to draft the policy proposed to the City Council.
When Mayor Jim Jarratt expressed the hope that the policy would prevent such calls in the future, Galvan stated, “Unfortunately, it’s going to be something we use quite often. The need’s here. It’s definitely here for us to be able to do something and change some behavior with humans and dogs, going to stores and going in to shop for an hour and leaving them outside with the windows up and the car not running in the heat. We’ve got to be able to change those attitudes.”