Iowa City Animal Services reports 50 calls for animals left in cars since May

The supervisor of Iowa City Animal Services is looking to toughen up on animal regulations as her time on the job nears an end.

Liz Ford is in her last month as supervisor before moving on to open her own business.  But, before she goes, she’s making some changes first.

In her four years on the job, she said the number of calls for animals left in cars has been steady, which prompted her to start tracking the numbers. From May 1 to August 1, Ford said there have been 50 such calls.

"We need to do a better job at addressing that, so people understand that it’s very serious and harmful to the animal in more than physiological ways. I’s harmful psychologically for the animal, as well. It can lead to brain damage. It can lead to death," she said.

Ford said, in most cases, dogs are left in cars while someone attempts to run an errand.

"When people are running into somewhere and they only think it will take a matter of minutes.  But someone in the parking lot has seen their animal.  Most the time, it’s a dog in a car (that) looks hot and looks troubled," she said.

In one of the cases Ford recalls, she said a dog was left inside a car, in the middle of the day, atop of a parking garage, while the owner went to a class.

"Most classes are usually an hour, over an hour long. That’s really too long to leave an animal in a car, even with the windows cracked because we now know that doesn’t make a difference. That was a pretty bad situation," she said.  Ford said, in that case, the owner was cited.

On Tuesday night, the Iowa City City Council passed the first consideration of the ordinance updates. One portion of the change would be to include leaving an animal in a car under dangerous circumstances, such as heat. It would also allow the civil penalty for any animal code violation be increased from $10 on a first penalty to $100.

Iowa City Police Sergeant Derek Frank said only one person has been charged for animal neglect. In that case, police charged Alexandra Avila, of West Liberty, for animal neglect on June 16. Avila was accused by police of leaving a dog in a parked and turned-off car. Police reported that the windows were cracked, but air temperature inside the car was at 97 degrees. However, Ford said cracking a car window doesn’t do anything to help.

The responding officer in that case said the dog appeared to be in distress and overheated. A criminal complaint states Avila told the officer the dog was left in the vehicle for ten minutes.

"Sadly, for whatever reason, it does continue to happen and it continues to happen multiple times," Frank said.

Animal neglect is a simple misdemeanor charge. If the neglect ends in death or a serious injury, it becomes a serious misdemeanor charge.

Both Frank and Ford had the same word of advice; leave the pet at home.

"If you love your animal and care for it, then leave it at home," Frank said.

Other provisions under the ordinance change include limited the circumstances that a dog is tied-up outside. It would limit unattended tethering to 30 minutes within a three-hour period. Animals would not be allowed to be tethered using a choke chain or slip-type leash, to prevent strangling, and the tether must be at least 10′ long.

Ford said evidence shows that dogs that are tethered are much more likely to be defensive, aggressive and bite.

Exotic animals for circus-type events would also be prohibited in the city, nor would it be allowed for animals to ride in the back of a truck without some type of encasement.

It would also add an irresponsible owner clause, defined as an owner who was found by the court to have violated animal code four or more times in a 12-month time period. The city would then be able to remove animals from them.

The city council has to approve the ordinance two more times before it can go into effect.

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