Bill to protect people rescuing dogs from hot cars clears first hurdle

When Georgia changed its “good Samaritan” law in 2015 to protect people who damage cars to rescue children who have been left behind in hot weather from being sued, animal lovers saw an opportunity.

A Senate panel on Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill that would extend the same protections to save a pet.

Under Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Marietta Republican state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, anyone who damages a car to save an animal, to avoid being sued, would be required to call 911 or animal control and wait for emergency responders to arrive.

“This issue comes up every summer, not commonly but enough that there are several animal deaths every year related to hot cars,” Kirkpatrick said.

The legislation is needed, Georgia Humane Society Director Debra Berger said. Law enforcement officers sometimes contact her organization, she said, because they don’t know what they can do when they come across a dog in a hot car.

Oftentimes, she said, pet owners may not realize how quickly the temperature rises when they leave their dog in the car, even if the windows are cracked.

“We would hope that by raising this issue that a law has been passed we’re going to prevent the need for these rescues,” Berger said. “Many people who leave their pets in cars simply don’t think about it.”

Proposed ban on pet ownership

A second pet-related bill will need more work before it can get initial approval, members of the Senate Special Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, introduced legislation that would allow judges to forbid anyone convicted of malicious cruelty or severe neglect of an animal from owning pets for a period of time. The judge would decide the length of time that the ban would be in place.

Members of the panel questioned how the ban proposed in Senate Bill 69 would be tracked and enforced.

“Offenders act impulsively at times,” Henson said. “Hopefully, for some people, just being told you’re simply not allowed to have a pet will avoid some of the cases of (repeat offenses).”