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Metro Councilman Solicits Support For Residents Who Free Dogs From Hot Cars

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A crowd gathered as the two women screamed at each other.

One held a dog. The other held a cell phone.

A videoshows the women trading obscenities and arguing in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Louisville, on what appears a bright summer day in 2014. The woman with the cell phone accuses the other of leaving a red-haired, shaggy dog in a car unattended for more than an hour.

"Get a life," the other responds. "My dog is spoiled rotten."

Each year, hundreds of dogs across the city are left alone and unattended in vehicles where temperatures can soar on summer days, said Lt. Adam Hamilton, head of the Louisville Metro Animal Services' animal control officers.

A Louisville Metro Councilman wants to rally support to help address the issue.

Councilman Brandon Coan, a Democrat from District 8, is sponsoring a resolution that, if approved, would serve to urge state legislators to amend an existing protection for residents who damage a vehicle in the course of removing a child considered to be in a dangerous situation -- such as a hot car.

Coan wants the state statute expanded to protect residents who seek to remove pets and domestic animals from unattended, hot vehicles.

"A good, common sense thing to do," he said.

Local legislators lack authority to grant such immunity to residents, Coan said. That's why he's calling on state legislators to amend the existing law, which was established in 2016.

"I'm just an animal lover," he said in a phone interview Friday with WFPL News.

State Senator Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, sponsored the measure during the 2016 General Assembly that established the protections for people who damage a vehicle while removing a child.

He also sponsored a similar measure that would have provided the protections Coan seeks — for people who remove pets from dangerous situations within vehicles. The bill died, however, before becoming law.

Carroll did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

Kelsey Westbrook, co-founder of local animal advocacy group Saving Sunny, said she's pleased with Coan's proposal. She said Kentucky generally has a weak stance on animal cruelty.

In fact, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ranks Kentucky 50th among the states regarding animal protections. The reasons for the ranking include inadequate animal fighting provisions and the lack of restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals following a conviction of neglect or cruelty, according to the group's 2016 report.

"You can pretty much do anything you want," Westbrook said.

Pattern of Abuse

In Louisville, police have responded to 135 animal cruelty cases since 2003, city data show. Nearly a third of those incidents occurred in four ZIP codes — 40212, 40215, 40272 and 40210, per the data.

During that same time, more than 2,500 animals have been confiscated by Louisville Metro Animal Services due to cruelty or neglect, data show.

And last year, city animal control officers were dispatched to more than 380 incidents of animals being left in unattended vehicles, Lt. Hamilton said.

Oftentimes, he said, the animals are out of the vehicle or suspects have left the scene by the time animal control officers arrive.

"It's not that often that we have to go in (into the vehicle)," he said.

In addition to seeking support for expanding the state's existing law that affords protections to residents who damage a vehicle while removing a child, Coan is also proposing an ordinance that would align local animal cruelty laws with state statutes.

Doing so, he said, would ensure local ordinances are valid and violators can be punished under the stiffest penalties set forth by state statute.

"We have no choice, we have to do that," he said, referencing the need to ensure local ordinances don't vary — in terms of disciplinary measures — from state law.

"Otherwise, if we tried to cite someone under our local rule it wouldn't be valid," he said.

Under the proposal, residents can face fines, jail time or be forced to euthanize pets upon the violation of certain ordinances.

Hamilton, at Louisville Metro Animal Services, said the agency has no qualms with Coan's proposals.

"We at LMAS always support anything that can save animals' lives and keep them safe," he said.

The Video

The video of the women arguing in the parking lot ended abruptly without showing what happened to the dog.

The woman who recorded the video did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Still, dozens of people commented on the post, many enraged at the possibility a dog was left alone in a car in the sweltering summer heat.

"Poor dog," wrote one person.

"I feel so bad," said another.

And others suggested doing just what Coan wants them to be able to do.

Bust the glass and free the dog.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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