It doesn’t take much to make a dog happy, but in Florida, our canine companions may soon have another reason to wag their tails.
Last week, Florida Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill filed a bill that would make it legal for a bystander to smash the window of a hot car if a dog or cat is trapped inside.
The Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety, or P.A.W.S., Act would prohibit a pet owner from leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle, provide them with a criminal penalty and allow authorized individuals to use reasonable force to free the animal without liability, according to the Florida Senate website.
If the bill is passed, Florida would become one of 17 states in the country that specifically prohibit leaving pets in confined vehicles, according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University. Most states, however, have animal cruelty laws that many of these types of cases fall under.
Bystanders who find a pet in a vehicle can’t just jump right in and start smashing windows, though. The law states that individuals must first try and locate the pet’s owner and receive instructions from a law enforcement officer or a 911 operator before they can try to remove the pet from a vehicle.
After breaking out the animal, rescuers must leave a detailed note with their contact information and the address where they will leave the animal. They can then take the pet to an animal shelter, veterinary clinic or other place of safekeeping.
Under the new bill, individuals who leave their pets in vehicles can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, which in Florida can mean up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
At UCF, members of the Body of Animal Rights Campaigners said they would strongly advocate for the P.A.W.S. Act.
“I believe that no animal deserves suffering,” said Hunter Menning, a senior business management major.
Menning said he, and many others, see their dogs as family members, and he is shocked that some people would do something so harmful to a loved one. Fellow BARC member Liam Richardson agreed.
“Those people don’t have compassion,” said the junior psychology major. “If they don’t even help a dog locked in a car, will they help a baby?”
Richardson said when owners forget something in the house and have to go back for it, for example, they usually only leave their pets in the car for a few minutes. Any longer than two or three minutes, he said, should be classified as abuse.
“These are intelligent, sentient, beautiful creatures,” Menning said. “They feel pain just like us.”
If passed, the bill would take effect July 1, 2016. For Menning, though, that day can’t come soon enough. He said he worries about the headlines he sees in publications, where dogs die within minutes of being locked up and left in the scorching Florida heat.
“They’re called man’s best friends,” he said. “Why would anyone be ignorant enough to leave them in a car?”
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.