New Mass. law protects rescuers of pets in distress

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BOSTON — As the temperature climbed above 80 degrees late Wednesday morning, Gumdrop, a nine-week-old pitbull-type puppy, took refuge from the heat and sun in a patch of shade underneath a desk placed on pavement outside the State House.

From the same desk moments earlier, Gov. Charlie Baker had ceremoniously signed a new law aimed at protecting pets like Gumdrop from extreme temperatures in cars.

The law makes clear that first responders encountering a pet in a hot or cold car can break the window to rescue the animal from dangerously hot or cold temperatures. Private citizens can also enter a car to release an animal in "imminent danger" if they have made "reasonable efforts" to locate the owner, call 911, remain with the animal until a first responder arrives and do not use "more force than reasonably necessary to enter the motor vehicle."

"This is one of those laws that you hope never has to be implemented," Baker said. "You hope no one ever has to break their way into a car to save a dog or an animal in distress, but certainly if people find themselves in that situation, first responders or regular citizens, I'm glad they have the ability to do that recognizing that under state law proactive good-samaritanship would be protected."

Pittsfield Animal Control officer Joseph Chague says no matter who does the pet rescue, the animal should seek medical attention.

"If you believe there's a medical emergency with the animal, you better bring it immediately to a veterinarian," he said in an Eagle interview.

Chague also urged citizens to use common sense as not all pets in cars are in distress.

"I've gone on calls where air conditioning is on, window cracked, there's a bowl of water and the dog's tail is wagging," he noted.

More than 20 states have statutory protections for first responders in such situations, and several have protections for regular citizens, according to Baker, who said his dog Lucy "reminds me every single day why this is the sort of thing that would be so important to people in the commonwealth."

Baker quietly signed the bill into law on Friday and held a ceremony to mark the signing Wednesday, so that it could be attended by lawmakers, advocates and several dogs -- which Baker's office described in advisories as "members of the canine community."

Sen. Mark Montigny, the bill's Senate sponsor, said he learned while working on the legislation that "people absolutely love animals, oftentimes more than they do people."

"I truly believe even today, this ceremony, will educate people to know what they can do, and that is when they see an animal in distress, smash the window," Montigny said. "The animal comes first. The irresponsible animal owner, not so much."

The legislation also includes new restrictions on tethering or chaining pets, reducing the length of time each day a dog can be tethered outside from 24 hours to five hours. No outdoor tethering is permitted during severe weather, and dogs can be tethered outdoors for no more than 15 supervised minutes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"I think it speaks to our character as a Legislature, as a governor, as a state, when we stand up and create laws that help people who not only don't have voices — they bark, but they can't speak — but they can't lobby their representatives, and they can't vote," said Rep. Lori Ehrlich, who sponsored the House version of the legislation.

Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay contributed to the story


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