Warning sign in car park

An Idaho Falls Police Department animal control officer chose to intervene when she saw a dog suffering from heat exhaustion while locked in a car.

Witnesses reported on July 17 the dog had been left alone in the Grand Teton Mall parking lot for about an hour. The license plate was registered to 20-year-old Jaicob Owens.

The officer wrote in her report the dog showed signs of heat exhaustion, including panting, drooling and acting tipsy. The windows were cracked open, but the officer determined the temperature inside the car was hot.

After an unsuccessful attempt to call Owens, the officer decided to remove the dog and take him to the Idaho Falls Animal Shelter.

IFPD Spokeswoman Jessica Clements said the case is one of “a lot” of calls animal control officers have received this summer.

The temperature inside a car can reach 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature on a warm day, according to The Humane Society of the United States. The recorded high temperature in Idaho Falls on July 17 was 82 degrees.

The heat is a threat to children as well as pets. According to kidsandcars.org, a website that tracks child deaths in hot cars, there have been more than 900 deaths nationwide since 1990 involving hot cars. In 2019 there have been 25 deaths.

Under Idaho law a bystander can break into a car if a person is at risk from the heat if they have “a reasonable, good-faith belief that the other person is in imminent danger of suffering death or serious bodily harm.”

That rule does not apply to pets, however. If someone does find a pet trapped in a hot car, the Humane Society recommends contacting animal control and/or law enforcement.

Clements said officers do have the authority to open a car if they believe the animal is at risk.

“We understand people have good intentions, but the best thing to do is to call 911 and have officers come out and handle it,” Clements said.

Animal control officers are trained to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and carry temperature guns to determine how hot it is inside.

“A lot of people say, ‘Well, I parked in the shade, and I cracked the window,’ and it doesn’t work,” Clements said.

The officer did eventually reach Owens who told her he had been in the store for 45 minutes. When the officer told him he committed animal cruelty, Owens became hostile.

“Jaicob was very mad and claimed he did everything right and nothing wrong,” she wrote in her report.

Owens was allowed to reclaim his dog the next day. He was charged with animal cruelty and permitting an animal to go without care, both misdemeanors punishable with up to six months in jail and a minimum fine of $100.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for 8:10 a.m. Aug. 29 in Bonneville County Courthouse.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.