Samaritans could be free to aid kids, pets in hot cars

Help is on the way for animals and small children locked in overheated cars under a bill that won unanimous approval in a House committee Thursday.

Good Samaritans who come across pets or children locked in cars would have a means to help and not get into trouble for doing so, said Reps. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, the two sponsors of HB1179.

“I wish I could say that we thought of it first, but many states have these laws to cover unfortunate situations where a young child or pet is forgotten in a locked car,” Saine said. “Folks don’t realize how quickly a metal car turns in to a oven chamber, often within minutes, even with cloud cover, with shade, with windows cracked. Killing temperature can arrive quickly.”

Under the bill, which now heads to the full House for more debate, a Good Samaritan would have to take a few steps to earn immunity from civil or criminal prosecution before taking action.

Those steps are:

■ Have a good-faith belief that a child or animal is in danger.

■ Determine that the vehicle is locked and that forcible entry would be necessary to attempt a rescue.

■ Make a reasonable effort to locate the vehicle’s owner.

■ Contact law enforcement prior to breaking into the vehicle.

■ Use no more force than necessary.

■ Remain with the child or animal until law enforcement arrives, or leave a note with contact information.

Several witnesses testified in favor of the bill — no one spoke out against it — saying this kind of thing can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, education level or income status.

Aubryn Royall, state director of the Colorado chamber of the U.S. Humane Society, said there have been cases when people have been charged for breaking into vehicles to rescue children or pets, but each time those charges were ultimately dropped.

But despite that, Royall and other witnesses said the law would be helpful because any time delayed from aiding a child or pet because of concerns about being prosecuted could prove fatal.

“A number of states have enacted similar legislation with bipartisan support,” Royall told the House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee, which approved the bill 11-0. “Good Samaritan bills addressing children left in hot cars have a long history, and it makes sense to apply the same concept to our beloved pets.”

While the bill currently only includes cats and dogs, some members of the committee plan to offer amendments when the measure reaches the full House to include other types of animals that also are considered pets, such as ferrets, pigs and miniature horses.


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