How many times have you seen a dog yelping to get out of a parked car with the doors locked and the windows closed on a hot or sub-zero day and felt helpless to do anything about it?
Dog-loving Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) has seen too much of it – and he has finally done something about it.
On Monday, Villegas convinced the City Council’s Finance Committee to approve a watered-down ordinance that would empower animal control officers or police officers to “enter a motor vehicle by any reasonable means under the circumstances” when a dog is locked inside.
That would include breaking the window “after making a reasonable effort to locate the owner.”
The long-stalled ordinance also spells out the circumstances that would constitute “cruelty to animals” sufficient to justify breaking into a vehicle with a dog inside.
It’s identified as leaving an animal unattended in a motor vehicle trailer or other enclosure “for a period of time long enough to threaten its life or health, including by subjecting the animal to inadequate” air circulation “or by exposure to extreme heat or cold.”
Last summer, Villegas proposed a much tougher ordinance that included hefty fines — ranging from $300-to-$1,000 for each offense — against people who confine an animal in a motor vehicle if it puts them “in a life or health-threatening situation” by exposure to a “prolonged period of extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or protection.”
He also introduced an ordinance that would have allowed everyday Chicagoans to break the window of vehicles with dogs trapped inside without incurring liability.
But city attorney Rey Phillips Santos warned Monday that, while the city could “potentially absolve certain liability,” alderman cannot do that for all Good Samaritans who break car windows to free endangered dogs.
“Not across-the-board liability because the city just doesn’t have that power,” the attorney said.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who has crusaded against animal cruelty, called the ordinance empowering police and animal control officers to break car windows desperately needed and long overdue.
But he argued that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“I wish we’d be able to revisit this in a manner that puts pressure on the state to ensure civilian liability is limited because…[Animal Care and Control] resources are stretched. Our police officers are oftentimes responding to things more pressing than a dog in a car,” Lopez said.
“Having the opportunity to allow our citizens to save lives on their own of the four-legged variety would be a great step for moving Chicago and the state in the right direction.”
Lopez added, “I’m all for breaking windows to save animals. A hundred percent…..Even though the law says I have to wait for police and Animal Care, if I see a dog in a car dying, I’m gonna break the window myself. Illinois should have a law that shields from civil liability, individuals who see an animal in distress and take action.”
When Villegas introduced his tougher ordinance last summer, he noted that 17 states have laws that allow Good Samaritans to help free an animal stuck in a hot car without incurring liability.
“I’ve seen it tons on the internet. And I’ve seen it myself in parking lots when people go inside to either a Jewel or Mariano’s. They think that, by just cracking the window, the animal is going to be able to [endure] the heat that’s in that vehicle,” Villegas said then.
“Most people try to leave the window open a crack. But that’s not enough. Even when you’re sitting in a vehicle in 90-degrees with all the windows down, it gets hot really quick. And when you have an animal with fur, can you imagine sitting in vehicle with a coat on in 90-degree weather? … You’ve got to hit people in the pocketbook to make sure they understand this is serious.”