It looks like sister bills in New Jersey that would provide “immunity from civil and criminal liability for rescue of [an] animal from motor vehicle under inhumane conditions” are moving through the lame duck session of the state legislature.
The senate version, S2899, a senate substitution, was passed on Dec. 7, 2017 during a session vote. The assembly version, A3636 passed last year. According to Tom Leach, the Executive Director of both the New Jersey Association for Biomedical Research and the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research, since “the bills were amended on the floor of the Senate, it will need to pass the full Senate then go back to the Assembly for concurrence with the Senate amendments. The assembly vote that is needed is a floor vote. There is no need for further committee activity. Both houses still have multiple voting sessions scheduled before the end of the legislative session on January 9th.”
Of concern is the fact that the bills do not provide sufficient guidance to the public about what constitutes “inhumane conditions adverse to the health or welfare of the animal.” The “inhumane conditions adverse conditions to the health or welfare of the animal” enumerated in the bill, include “heat, cold, inadequate ventilation, or other circumstances likely to endanger or cause bodily injury or death the animal.”
If those “inhumane conditions” exists,
any person who, without license or privilege to otherwise enter the motor vehicle, may in good faith enter the vehicle in order to remove, or render emergency care to, the animal if the person reasonably believes that the health or welfare of the animal may be at risk under such circumstances, provided that prior to entering the motor vehicle the person contacted appropriate rescue personnel to report the circumstances and made a reasonable attempt to locate the owner or operator of the motor vehicle or other person responsible for the animal unless exigent circumstances warrant foregoing such actions.
See A3636 (emphasis added).
Since anyone would be able to break into a vehicle and rescue an animal if these bills become law, these vague and ambiguous provisions could result in unneeded “rescues” that could end up injuring animals and unnecessarily destroying property. As long as a person acts in “good faith,” they will be immune from criminal or civil liability.
Some pets would suffer if not rescued when locked in cars when the ambient temperature is high with the windows closed and no air conditioning on. Those pets may suffer from heatstroke, but if so, immediate veterinary treatment is imperative, not optional as permitted in the current bills. If someone in good faith believes an animal must be rescued due to inhumane conditions harmful to their health, then each rescued animals should receive immediate veterinary care.
Since no one in New Jersey other than licensed veterinarians are permitted to diagnose or treat conditions in animals, there should be provisions for mandatory veterinary treatment as soon as animals, suffering from any inhumane conditions, are rescued from vehicles.
As described on Consultant, A Diagnostic Support System for Veterinary Medicine, developed by one of my former mentors, Dr. Maurice E. White at Cornell University, “heatstroke is a multisystemic disorder usually associated with forced confinement of animals in a hot environment such as a locked car.”
The associated clinical signs of heatstroke include:
Abnormal behavior, aggression, changing habits, Abnormal upper airway breathing sounds, Anorexia, Arrhythmia, Ataxia, Blindness, Bloody stools, feces, hematochezia, Cold skin, Coma, Congestion oral mucous membranes, Constant or increased vocalization, Cyanosis, Dehydration, Diarrhea, Dryness of skin or hair, Dryness oral mucosa, Dullness, Dysmetria, Dyspnea, Epistaxis, Excessive salivation, Fever, Generalized weakness, Inability to stand, Increased respiratory rate, Mydriasis, Oral cavity, tongue swelling, Pale, Paraparesis, Petechiae, ecchymoses, purpura, Red or brown urine, Seizures or syncope, Sudden death, Tachycardia, Tetraparesis, Tremor, Vomiting or regurgitation, Warm skin, Weak pulse.
In a study titled “Hemostatic abnormalities in dogs with naturally occurring heatstroke” abnormalities in hemostatic tests run (platelet count, prothrombin and activated partial thromboplastin times (PT and aPTT, respectively), antithrombin activity (ATA), total protein C activity (tPCA), fibrinogen, and D-dimer concentrations) on 30 dogs with naturally occurring heatstroke were identified. 18 of the 30 dogs survived. The study found:
[h]emostatic derangements are common in dogs with naturally occurring heatstroke. Alterations in PT, aPTT, tPCA, and fibrinogen concentrations appear to be associated with the outcome at 12–24 hours PP, exemplifying the need for serial measurement of multiple laboratory hemostatic tests during hospitalization, even when within reference interval on presentation. The development of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), as defined in this cohort, was not associated with mortality; however, nonsurvivors had significantly more coagulation abnormalities during the first 24 hours PP.
Good Samaritans and law enforcement officials, including animal control and humane officers or agents, assisting pets experiencing inhumane conditions in locked vehicles, should be required to bring that pet immediately to a veterinarian, once rescued. It should not be optional.