RICHMOND (July 19, 2019)—As Virginia continues to deal with extreme heat, Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his first-in-the-nation Animal Law Unit are reminding Virginians that heat can be deadly to children and animals, and that there can be serious legal consequences for leaving children or animals in hot cars or outside without adequate shelter and water.
“The extreme temperatures in Virginia continue to pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for young children or animals left in vehicles or outside without adequate precautions and shelter,” said Attorney General Herring. “The law requires owners to protect their pets from the elements and gives law enforcement tools to ensure the safety and health of an animal, including the ability to break into cars or seize an animal to ensure its safety. As we all try to deal with this oppressive heat, I encourage all Virginians to check on and take care of yourself, your friends, neighborhoods, and family members, and don’t forget about your animals.”
A parent or caretaker who leaves a child in a hot vehicle could face criminal charges, especially if the child is injured or killed. Leaving an animal trapped in a car or exposed to the elements with no shelter or inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
Attorney General Herring and his Animal Law Unit advise animal control officers to ask owners to bring animals inside or into shelter, ask the owner to surrender the animal if they are unable to provide adequate shelter, or in certain circumstances take temporary custody of an animal to ensure its safety.
In 2015, Attorney General Herring created the nation’s first OAG Animal Law Unit to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys around the state dealing with matters involving animal fighting, cruelty, and welfare. Illegal animal fighting is closely tied to illegal gambling, drug and alcohol crimes, and violence against animals has been shown to be linked to violence towards other people. To date the unit has handled hundreds of matters, including trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.