This took place in Springfield, IL, but could happen anywhere. Animal neglect investigators are asking Springfield police to take a proactive approach to a law that went into effect in January. It allows law enforcement to take temporary custody of dogs and cats without adequate shelter during severe weather conditions.

The request was triggered by a Jan. 29 incident, in which police were made aware of two dogs left outside on when the weather was much below freezing. That day, police also had checked on a barking dog at another location.

“Animal control advised they would not come out unless it was an emergency (dog dying due to cold),” an officer wrote at 8:19 p.m., according to dispatch records.

After being made aware of the two dogs, police, who were under the impression that Sangamon County Animal Control would not respond to after-hours calls unless the dogs were dying, checked on the animals almost every two hours.

A little after 8 a.m. the next day, animal control was contacted and impounded the two dogs, according to dispatch records. As of last week, the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office was still considering whether to press charges.

After the incident, Police Chief Kenny Winslow said Thursday officers have been tasked to “err on the side of caution” and call animal control every time there is doubt as to whether an animal has adequate shelter.

“There’s been different situations where we feel (animal control) should come out and they don’t,” Winslow said. “I’m not going to get into that. The bottom line is that under these extreme weather conditions they have agreed they will come out when the officers call.”

Sangamon County Administrator Brian McFadden said according to the animal control’s policy, during an “emergency” animal control will respond after hours if law enforcement on scene requests their assistance.

An animal neglect investigator, known as a Humane investigator, was on the scene the night of the incident and because she didn’t have credentials on hand, a police officer would not let her enter the property. Humane investigators, who volunteer to be trained to identify signs of animal abuse, are certified through the Illinois Department of Agriculture every two years and authorized to impound animals.

Jane McBride, a different humane investigator, brought her concerns to the Springfield City Council, as well as the Springfield Police Department and Sangamon County Animal Control.

Though there have been iterations of an animal exposure law in statute for three years, another tenet of the law passed last year allows for action before an animal experiences hyperthermia or hypothermia, McBride said.

Marc Ayers, the state director for the humane Society, said Illinois is considered a leader in animal welfare law. The current law has worked well so far, he said in other parts of the state.

He pointed to work done by other Illinois law enforcement and animal control agencies to educate themselves and the public on the new law. Prior to the cold snap, both the Rock Falls Police Department and DuPage County Animal Control wrote on their Facebook pages about the new law, warning that no animal of any breed should be out in the cold that day.

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