NEWS/ CITY HALL — Saving a dog locked in a hot car isn’t as simple as breaking a window.
Kamloops City council got a lesson in the law on the topic today (Tuesday) as it responded to a request from the public to start meting out heftier fines to people who leave their dogs in their car on a hot day while they go shopping.
“It’s complicated,” Coun. Ken Christian concluded near the end of a half-hour discussion.
Mayor Peter Milobar brought up the fact that City bylaw officers don’t have the authority to break the window of a car if they see a dog in it. He’s written a letter to Attorney-General Suzanne Anton asking the province to look at changing the law.
Bylaws supervisor Jon Wilson confirmed that only RCMP or SPCA officers have the legal right to break car windows to rescue dogs from cars. “When an officer breaks a window, if there’s not specific approval they personally can be held liable for the damages and essentially a charge of breaking and entering into the vehicle, and I don’t think that’s an acceptable risk to put our employees into,” he said.
While police or SPCA can be called, it complicates enforcement because that officer would then have to testify if the case goes to court, instead of the bylaws officer.
“That said, we will continue to go and assist where we can,” he said, adding that in an extreme situation the bylaws officer would probably break the glass anyway to save the dog’s life, in which case, “chances are there won’t be a lot of pushback.”
Other issues such as negligent dog owners putting in insurance claims for the broken glass, and the cost of vet bills if a rescued dog needs medical care, also need to be looked into in addition to the issue of fines, said Wilson.
Big fines are an effective deterrent, he said. “If the community is aware that if you leave your animal in a hot vehicle you’re going to get a $500 fine it serves as a deterrent.”
“It’ll make them stop and think,” Coun. Tina Lange agreed, who asked about another public request — transporting untethered dogs in the back of a pickup truck. What would happen, she asked, if a bylaws officer found a dog loose in a parked truck? Would it be impounded?
“No,” said wilson. “Removing it would be contrary to what we’re authorized to do.”
“It would be nice if we could get that one changed, too,” said Lange.
Council decided to look at amending its dog bylaw to increase fines, and to word a motion to the Union of B.C. Municipalities backing up a change to provincial law allowing bylaws officers to break into automobiles.
A report will come back to council with the results.