Legal immunity proposed for animal rescue

Members of the Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 19 on a bill that would provide criminal and civil immunity to anyone rescuing an animal from a vehicle in extreme conditions.

Under LB916, introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, a person causing damage to a vehicle through forcible entry to remove an animal would be immune from criminal and civil liability for any damage to the vehicle.

Howard said it is not always feasible to wait for a rescue agency like the Nebraska Humane Society to arrive and rescue the animal because their average response time is 24 minutes. It takes only five to 10 minutes for heatstroke to affect a pet, she said.

“Nebraskans value their pets as family members but some mistakenly believe that a pet can be comfortable and happy if left alone in a vehicle, particularly in hot weather,” she said. “[LB916] sends a clear message that leaving pets in a hot car is not an acceptable level of care.”

To be eligible for legal immunity, the person must have a reasonable belief that forcible entry is necessary and have no otherwise reasonable method to remove the animal he or she believes to be in imminent danger.

The bill also would require a person to contact local law enforcement before taking action, remain with the animal in a safe location close to the vehicle until law enforcement arrives and securely place a written note with their contact information and explanation of events on the vehicle’s windshield.

Lori Hook, representing animal rescue organization Hearts United, supported the bill. She said it would raise awareness about leaving pets in parked cars and would prevent needless suffering.

“A pet’s normal body temperature is already higher than a human’s,” Hook said. “A humidity level of just 35 percent can impact an animal’s ability to regulate their body temperature and can lead to death.”

If a person provides further aid to the animal in good faith, but the animal suffers additional harm or death, the person also would not be liable.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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