See an animal locked in a hot car? In SC, you can’t do much about it

Updated: Jul. 22, 2019 at 10:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Imagine in the intense heat we encountered this weekend you find a dog, stuck inside of a car in a store's parking lot.

That is the scenario that WIS Meteorologist Kevin Arnone encountered on Sunday.

Arnone says he and his wife left the Costco on Piney Grove Road around 1:50 p.m. on Sunday, that is when he and his wife noticed a dog inside a vehicle that was not on.

“It was 95 degrees at the time and the car was cracked open enough to where you could stick your hand in there. So my wife and I were touching the dog and the dog was really hot, barking,” Arnone said.

Arnone quickly put the groceries up and began taking pictures of the vehicle. He says he went into Costco to see if they could make an announcement, but they told him they did not have a PA system.

Arnone called 911, at 2:19 p.m. He then got a call from animal control at 2:31 p.m. and again at 2:41 p.m.

“So I told her, that I was just going to easily stick my hand in, and open up the car enough where I could let the dog out and she mentioned if I were to do that, that ‘I would be sent to jail,”’ Arnone said.

Arnone wondered why it took so long for him to get a callback, while the dog was sitting in the vehicle.

The Richland County Animal Care officials we spoke with, says there was a time-lapse between Columbia 911 Communications Dispatch and the time she was contacted. She did not know specifically how long that time was.

We reached out to the City of Columbia to learn more about the time difference, but they said we would have to file a record’s request, which we did.

Legally, all Arnone could do was call 911, or hope the owner came out. The owner did come out while Arnone spoke with animal care and Arnone said the dog is now safe. He says the owner told him that she had only been gone for 15 minutes. Arnone says from the time he and his wife left Costco, to the time the owner showed up was about 1 hour.

Unlike other states, in South Carolina you are not allowed to take the law into your own hands to help animals. In fact, authorities advise against that.

“It’s so obvious that South Carolina is a lot hotter throughout the entire year than Connecticut is. Why does Connecticut have that law, to protect a Good Samaritan from letting a dog, or a child out of a hot car, but why not South Carolina,” Arnone said.

Much of that answer lies within local government and what happens in the Statehouse.

WIS learned that cities and counties have the power to enact their own local laws to address this issue.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department says there are animal cruelty penalties someone could face in situations like this.

For a situation to be determined criminal, they add it can be any of the below depending on the severity of the situation and injury to the animal:

  1. Misdemeanor not to exceed 90 days, or fine not less than $100 up to $1000 or both for a first offense.
  2. For second and subsequent misdemeanor not to exceed 2 years, or up to $2000 or both.
  3. Felony up to 5 years.

If the issue is handled by the county, officials said,“ animal services will respond, attempt to find the owner and assess the situation for the proper response. A dog in a car could be a matter of animal cruelty. A person could face up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $500 for a charge of animal abuse.”

Typically in situations like the one Arnone faced, Richland County Sheriff’s Department Officials say an Animal Care officer will first respond.

In South Carolina, there is also not a specific law that would lead to criminal penalties if an animal is left in a hot car.

State Senator John Scott, who represents District 19 where the Costco is located, said that after hearing about this incident and others like it, he will look into the possibility of introducing new legislation when lawmakers meet again.

He says one size does not fit all, and more research will have to be done when it comes to adding to animal cruelty laws within the state.

While Arnone called 911, he was not as specific in his request. Officials say there are some important steps you must take if you see an animal, unattended in a hot car:

  • Call 911, ask for police or a deputy AND An Animal Control Officer
  • Be very specific about the vehicle (make, model, plate number, windows cracked/not, is it on)
  • Give a detail of how long you have been there and the animal has been there.

We reached out to Costco management as well. They say they will advise customers in this situation to contact authorities. They say only service animals are allowed in the store.

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