RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Virginians are being reminded there can be serious legal consequences if a child or animal is left in a hot car or outside without adequate shelter and water.
Attorney General Mark Herring and the Animal Law Unit want to make sure people are paying attention while the Commonwealth continues to face excessive heat warnings and watches.
"The extreme temperatures in Virginia continue to pose a real threat to health and safety, especially for young children or animals left in vehicles or outside without adequate precautions and shelter," said Herring. "The law requires owners to protect their pets from the elements and gives law enforcement tools to ensure the safety and health of an animal, including the ability to break into cars or seize an animal to ensure its safety. As we all try to deal with this oppressive heat, I encourage all Virginians to check on and take care of yourself, your friends, neighborhoods, and family members, and don't forget about your animals."
In the case of a child left in a hot vehicle, a parent or caretaker could face criminal charges, especially if the child is hurt or dies.
Leaving an animal in a car or exposed to the elements without shelter or inadequate shelter can be considered animal cruelty, which is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Animal control officers are advised to ask owners to bring animals inside or into shelter or ask the owner to surrender the animal if they cannot provide shelter.
In certain circumstances, officers can also take temporary custody of an animal to ensure its safety and well-being.
The Animal Law Unit, the first of its kind in the country, was created in 2015 to serve as a training and prosecution resource for state agencies, investigators and Commonwealth's Attorneys in matters of animal fighting, cruelty and welfare.