© Jeff Harper - METRO HALIFAX
Two dogs look out the window of a vehicle parked with only its window slightly down. The picture is a photo illustration, and both dogs were out of the vehicle within a minute.
The chief inspector of the provincial SPCA says the power to write tickets – with hefty fines – will provide an important deterrent element to the annual awareness campaigns about leaving dogs in hot cars.
A review of provincial regulations regarding companion animals includes a proposal to give police the ability to write summary offence tickets, or SOTs, to owners who leave their dogs to slow-roast in a sweltering vehicle.
“It’s a good idea,” said Nova Scotia SPCA chief inspector David Ross July 8. “It sends a quick message to the public, there is a penalty to this, it is serious, and it’s a quick way…for the officer to address it on site.”
Despite repeated pleas for people to leave their dogs at home, Halifax Regional Police received 112 calls for service related to dogs in cars in June, and have received 41 so far this month. In three cases, officers broke the car window to get the dog out.
“A lot of these crimes, and they are crimes, are not committed by people…with any intent,” said Ross. “They’re just not thinking… and sometimes it has dire consequences.”
Provincial Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell, whose portfolio includes the Animal Cruelty Act, said the new SOTs will come with hefty fines for first-time offenders and even heftier penalties for repeat offenders.
“We want to make it substantial so that people get the message,” he said Tuesday. “This is a way to educate people quickly. If they’ve got to pay, they learn real fast.”
Colwell said the fine would be tied to the owner’s vehicle registration, similar to a traffic SOT, so the registration can’t be renewed unless the fine has been paid.
The proposed regulations are currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice, which will recommend specific fines. Colwell said he’s asked for them to be dealt with as quickly as possible, but he doesn’t expect them to be implemented before the fall.
“We’re serious about making this happen,” said Colwell. “It’s hard to get a balance between what’s realistic and what some people perceive as…something that can be done, so we have to have that balance to get something that’s enforceable.”
SOTs a good middle-of-the-road penalty: SPCA
Although the provincial Animal Protection Act allows police officers to lay charges against people who leave their dogs in a hot car, it requires a lengthy and cumbersome court process usually reserved only for the most serious incidents.
“It can happen in extreme cases,” said Halifax Regional Police Const. Pierre Bourdages, citing the Act’s call for protection from “injurious heat or cold.”
“Injuries would have to be documented.”
The chief inspector for the provincial SPCA says summary offence tickets provide a good intermediate option between education and the long-form method.
“It’s definitely punitive in nature, in no way does it take away the citizen’s right to have their day in court, but it…makes the system a lot quicker,” said David Ross.