With temperatures below zero last week, an incident involving two dogs left outside overnight demonstrated the confusion about the law’s aim to protect animals in extreme temperatures and when it should be applied.
The law, enacted Jan. 1, allows law enforcement to take temporary custody of dogs or cats that have had prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures that could result in death or injury.
However, the recently amended Humane Care for Animals Act caused confusion about which agency should take the calls and where to hold animals that have been taken into custody.
“The problem with the city of Springfield is, where do these dogs go?” asked Jill Egizii, a volunteer humane investigator for the Illinois Department of Agriculture and president of WILD Canine Rescue. “I was getting calls, and I knew I would,” Egizii said about the cold spell. “Dogs with paws frozen to the ground, no water or frozen water, chained outside. There were lots of calls, and it was pretty constant.”
Another humane investigator, Angela Hayes, climbed out of bed Jan. 30 after receiving a call at 2 a.m. that two dogs were outside in the subzero weather. When she met police an hour later, she said the officers told her the dogs were fine.
“One was a little staffy bull or pit. He was shivering uncontrollably,” Hayes told Illinois Times through text. “The shepherd-husky mix was constantly lifting his feet due to the majority of his run being ice. Both are signs of hypothermia.”
Hayes said the animal control officer who responded to the call was eventually given permission to remove the dogs after 7 a.m., but Hayes twice tried to remind the police that they had the authority to move the animals, given the extreme conditions.
“Police were told that if the animals started showing signs of stress, Animal Control would come out,” Hayes said. “The new law was created to keep them from going into distress.”
Egizii said most animal owners she receives calls about are more than willing to work with her and don’t intentionally mistreat their animals. She said the biggest issue is that animal owners, especially dog owners, don’t understand how extreme temperatures affect certain breeds.
“I don’t know why, but there’s a learning curve with how to treat animals outside, whether it be heat or cold,” Egizii said.
Egizii said the new law will have limited impact until it is better known and understood, especially by law enforcement. “If nobody knows what’s going on with it, it’s a little difficult to employ,” Egizii said.
Lt. Brian Oakes of the Springfield Police Department said SPD doesn’t have any place to hold animals, and there hasn’t been any formal training given to officers on how to handle emergency calls related to pets.
“It’s well-intentioned, but there are so many logistical issues with the law,” Oakes said.
Egizii said she’s willing to work with law enforcement in the area to help better train them for calls related to animals, but that still doesn’t help with the statewide mandate placed on police, nor does it give them a facility to hold animals they’ve taken into custody.
Oakes said animal control officers are typically the ones who issues citations and fines, which is why the SPD always refers callers when they receive complaints about animals.
The only problem with Animal Control, Egizii said, is that they don’t work over the weekends or overnight.
“There’s got to be some plan in place,” Egizii said. “It’s going to happen again.”
Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at email@example.com.