Upper Arlington News

Locked vehicles

UA cops may get more authority to rescue animals


Inspired by his love for his own pets -- and with an additional push from his daughter, Giuliana, who volunteers at the Capital Area Humane Society -- Frank Ciotola has introduced legislation that would give Upper Arlington police specific authority to break into vehicles to rescue at-risk animals.

Ciotola, vice president of Upper Arlington City Council, said Ohio's Good Samaritan laws and officers' general obligations to protect and serve might already provide such authority. However, he wants city law strengthened so police officers, animal control officials and humane society personnel can "take all steps that are reasonably necessary" if an animal confined in a vehicle is in physical danger because of weather conditions, a lack of food or water or other circumstances.

"There are a lot of pets that perish that way," he said. "It seems pretty cruel to allow a pet to suffer and die that way."

The proposal before Upper Arlington City Council would require officers to first make a "reasonable effort" to locate the owner or other person responsible for the vehicle before forcing entry to remove an animal. It also stipulates that officers can satisfy that obligation by anchoring a note to the windshield with the windshield wipers.

Additionally, the ordinance would make "unlawful confinement" of an animal in a motor vehicle a minor misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $150 for first-time offenders.

A repeat offender, or someone who has been convicted of animal cruelty or poisoning animals, could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which could result in a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

Ciotola said if an officer believes he or she should get an animal out of a locked vehicle, he hopes the officer would attempt to use tools to unlock the door without causing damage.

If those measures aren't successful, or if it's an emergency situation in which time is limited, however, he said the ordinance would give officers authority to break a window or take other measures to safely extract the animal.

"We have our own pets and I do love animals," Ciotola said. "I hate to see pets suffer in any way."

According to Upper Arlington Assistant City Attorney Thad Boggs and the Animal Legal & Historical Center at the Michigan State University College of Law, 14 states currently have statutes that specifically prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle, but Ohio is not one of them.

Boggs said Upper Arlington's proposal seeks to eliminate any doubt as to how law enforcement officials and specific animal and health officials can respond to a life-threatening situation for animals.

"As in any situation, the officer is going to size up the circumstances and take reasonable action under those circumstances," Boggs said. "It clarifies the specific instance of the animal being in a vehicle, as opposed to a general animal cruelty-type of offense.

"They won't, in turn, be liable for the broken window or damage to the lock of a vehicle when they, in fact, are doing their jobs as spelled out in the ordinance."

In Ohio, humane societies are responsible for dealing with animal cruelty and neglect.

It's a difficult task, according to Rachel Finney, executive director of the Hilliard-based Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS).

Although Finney said she believes Ohio's Good Samaritan laws generally give police and regular citizens the ability to act on the behalf of an animal in need, she supports Upper Arlington's plans to strengthen those protections.

"If council is giving them more specific authority, then we would encourage that," Finney said. "We're certainly in support of being able to respond to an animal in need.

"We really celebrate the fact city council is trying to make it a safer community for our pets."

Finney noted that CAHS is a nonprofit organization that essentially has one enforcement officer available to respond to animal cruelty and neglect reports throughout Franklin County. Therefore, she said, local police frequently provide vital service to confined animals that may be in distress.

"We respond to calls like that routinely in warm weather months," Finney said. "We also encourage people who see situations like this to report it to their local police because they have quicker response times."

In addition to his own affinity for animals, Ciotola said 16-year-old Giuliana compelled him to introduce the proposal.

"I give credit to my daughter, who volunteers at the humane society and often talks about cruelty to animals," he said.

Council is expected to hear a second and final reading of the proposal at its Nov. 12 meeting, slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Upper Arlington Municipal Services Center, 3600 Tremont Road.