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Leaving your dog in a hot car? Alderman wants to fine you up to $1,000

Even with the windows cracked, the inside of a car can get dangerously hot very quickly on a sunny day. | Sun-Times file photo

How many times have you gone to the grocery store on a hot day and seen a parked car with the windows closed — and a dog inside, yelping to get out?

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, has seen it plenty — in person and in videos posted on social media — and he’s determined to stop it.

Villegas wants to penalize 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.”

Fines would range from $300 to $1,000 for each offense.

The ordinance further states: “Any person, animal control officer or law enforcement officer who reasonably believes” a cooped up animal is in danger “shall have authority to enter” the vehicle “by any reasonable means under the circumstances” after making a “reasonable effort to locate” the driver.

“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.

“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.”

Past public-service ad campaigns have tried to impress upon pet owners the dangers of leaving their animals locked up in a car. | Distributed by the Associated Press

Villegas noted that 17 states have laws that allow Good Samaritans to help free an animal stuck in a hot car without incurring liability.

The ordinance introduced by Villegas at Wednesday’s City Council meeting does not include such language. But, he plans to introduce a follow-up ordinance this fall that does just that after talking with police officers and firefighters who have responded to those emergencies.

“If police or fire break the window to try to free the animal, we’ve heard from some of the police and fire that the owner of the vehicle then, in turn, tries to sue the people who have damaged their property,” Villegas said, arguing that first-responders and Good Samaritans should be freed of that liability.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who has crusaded against animal cruelty, called the crackdown long overdue.

“They’re abusing their animals. Throwing them in an oven. That’s exactly what they’re doing by leaving these dogs with no windows open and no circulation to bake in a car,” Lopez said.

“We don’t allow that with our children. We don’t allow it with our seniors. We wouldn’t allow ourselves to sit in a car with the windows closed when its 95 degrees out and the car reaches temperatures of 120 degrees or more. That kind of animal abuse must be stopped.”

Lopez urged Villegas to follow through on his promise to insulate Good Samaritans from liability.

“We need to give protections to individuals who are trying to do the right thing,” Lopez said. “Oftentimes, we’ve seen where dogs and cats are left in cars and people are afraid to rescue them by breaking the window to get them out of a car that can be upwards of 120 degrees out of fear of being held liable for their actions.”