|RICHMOND (May 28, 2021) – As summer approaches and Virginia continues to see progressively warmer temperatures, 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 heat that Virginia can experience during the summer months can pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for animals or young children left in cars or outside without adequate shelter,” said Attorney General Herring. “As the summer and the hot weather begins, I am encouraging all Virginians to take care of yourselves, check on your friends and family, and don’t forget to take care of your animals and make sure they are not left exposed to the elements.”
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 thousands of matters, including trainings, prosecutions, and consultations.