West Virginia House passes bill allowing first responders to rescue pets from cars

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WDTV) — The West Virginia House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill that will allow law enforcement officers and other first responders to legally break into locked cars and help trapped animals.

It is illegal in the Mountain State to leave an animal unattended for long periods of time in cars if there is a chance of harm, but HB 2185 would allow some groups to intervene.

"What we are doing with this bill is providing that certain individuals have the ability lawfully to enter into a vehicle where an unattended animal is danger," said Judiciary vice-chair Moore Capito (R).

With this law, everyday citizens can't break into a car to help an animal, but now, firefighters, police, humane officers and EMS personnel can.

It amends WV Code §61 - 8 - 19 to add language including: "An agent may take all steps that are reasonably necessary to remove an animal from a motor vehicle if the animal’s health, safety, or wellbeing appears to be in immediate danger from heat, cold or lack of adequate ventilation and the conditions could reasonably be expected to cause extreme suffering, physical injury, or death."

This bill is good news for people like Tina Bulka, who believe animals should be treated like children when it comes to leaving them alone in cars.

"It's a no-brainier on this question, because dogs and cats require the same care as any child would," said Bulka. "So I think if you're going to pin them up in a car on a hot or cold day, it just doesn't fly. And I think it's unfortunate that someone would treat their pet like that."

Once the animal is rescued, whoever freed them must leave the owner a written note explaining how they can get their animal back. But some residents don't believe they should get to keep their pet after leaving them.

"Somebody needs to be on the defense of the animal," said Bulka. "And I think that the pet should be taken away from the owner actually if that were to happen."

"If they do it once, then they are going to do it again," said resident Terrance Paletta.

Those who are found leaving their animal in a car and putting them in harm's way will be fined and charged with a misdemeanor for the offense.

Fines will be no less than $300 and no more than $2,000, according to the bill, in order to pay for or make arrangements to pay for "maintenance, care, medical treatment, and impoundment of the animal" before picking the pet up. There is also a possibility of a six-month jail sentence.

The bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Jan. 21. You can read it in full a href="http://www.wvlegislature.gov/Bill_Status/bills_text.cfm?billdoc=hb2185%20ENG.htm&yr=2019&sesstype=RS&i=2185" target="_blank">here .