It’s summer, which means in many places there will be an uptick in pet rescues when irresponsible owners leave their animals unattended in hot cars.
In some states, it’s legal for a stranger to break a car window to rescue a pet in distress, but in others, it’s not.
Virginia is one of the states that only allows police or animal control officers to make that sort of call, a fact that has bothered many — especially since a rather perplexing case took place on Monday, when temperatures were in the 90s.
Sharon Dalton and Camie Carpenter were at the mall in Lynchburg, Virginia, to catch a movie when they first spotted the large dog in an unattended vehicle. He barked, catching their attention.
“At River ridge Mall in Lynchburg va !!!” Carpenter shared on Facebook on Monday. “Came out of the movie and this dog has been locked up in this vehicle ( at least two hrs ) !!!
“We called the cops … poor cop just got here .. after two hrs !!! My bestie and I are frantic !!! We need to ban together Lynchburg!!! This dog is in severe distress !!!!!”
While they considered breaking the window, the two women decided to contact the authorities, though Dalton said the case warranted a broken window.
“At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about rights,” she told WSLS-TV. “I was concerned about the dog. For somebody to do that, to me, it was cruelty.”
Police managed to unlock the car and get the dog to the Humane Society, and they shared the story on their Facebook page.
“The officer who responded noticed that the dog was showing signs of distress due to the warm weather but several attempts to locate the vehicle owner were unsuccessful,” the Lynchburg Police Department’s post read. “The officer was able to use an ‘unlock kit’ to free the dog without damaging the vehicle. The dog was later transported to the Lynchburg Humane Society, unharmed.
“Upon further investigation, the officer was able to identify and locate the owner. Levi Alfred Heaton, III, was issued a summons for failing to adequately care for a companion animal. Any additional information will be released as an update to this news release.”
The department has also taken the opportunity to issue yet another reminder to pet owners about not leaving their dogs in cars, even on 80-degree days. It requested that anyone who spots a dog in a hot car call the department immediately.
While the police department hasn’t said what the temperature inside the car was, it was in the 90s outside and Carpenter made a comment on the department’s post saying the inside of the car registered near 130 when they got the dog out.
Far from hiding from media attention, the dog’s owner has been very public about his response to the situation. Heaton got his dog back from the Humane Society the next morning and insists that he did no wrong.
“These charges will be dropped,” he posted on July 7. “The officer could not see in my windows because they all have curtains on them (to block the heat in order to keep my dog cool). The windsheild also had a heat deflector on it. I also have a full bowl of water in there for him. I also have a 16 inch house fan plugged into a 100 amp hour deep cell marine battery to keep the fan running when my truck is off.
“All the windows were cracked, including the moon roof, and my dog has an insulted bed in my truck. No laws were broken here. The officer acted in what he believed to be the best interest of my dog and unfortunately he wasn’t able to see the accommodations I made for my dog until after he had already entered my vehicle.
“At that point he has no choice but to proceed with his actions. These charges will be dropped.”
“I don’t neglect or abuse animals,” he said. “I love animals. I love my dog. He is my son. Being charged with a crime is not the same as being convicted of one and I would never put any of my children into a situation I would not put myself in.”
Heaton also replied to many of the excoriating comments on the police department’s post of the incident and mentioned that his court date is in September. According to WSLS, animal control officials have said that he’s facing a charge of “failure to care for an animal,” which is a Class 4 misdemeanor.
While many are shocked at Heaton’s actions and hope the dog won’t find itself in a repeat situation, others are using it as an opportunity to point out flaws in the current legislation.
“I want something to change,” Carpenter said. “I want clarity on our rights and to be able to do whatever needs to be done.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.