New law in Illinois will allow local law enforcement to take poorly treated pets into custody

By Glenn Minnis | Jan 2, 2019

Edwardsville Police Chief Jay Keeven has long subscribed to a simple credo when it comes to the basis on how he thinks law enforcement policies and practices should be enforced.

“Anything that allows an officer to be able to offer and provide greater services and safety to the public is a good thing,” Keeven told the Record. “There’s really no such thing as being asked or required to do too much.”

 A new state law going into effect with the start of the new year permits officers across Illinois to take custody of a cat or dog deemed to be in a life-threatening situation brought on by weather related elements. According to Illinois Policy Institute, the act also mandates that the officer taking dominion over the animal immediately seek emergency veterinary care for it with the owner obligated to pay all costs incurred. 

Sponsored by state Senators Linda Holmes (D-Aurora), Thomas Cullerton (D-Villa Park) and Cristina Castro (D-Elgin) and state Reps. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), David S. Olsen (R-Downers Grove) and Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee), Senate Bill 2270, now known as Public Act 100-0740, amends the state’s Humane Care for Animals Act to allow officers to have such discretionary powers.

The law directly designates extreme heat or cold conditions as those so brutal they could end in death or some other form of debilitating condition such as frostbite or hyperthermia.

“I don’t see it as being overburdensome to officers at all,” Keeven added. “For one thing, we don’t see too many of these kinds of cases to begin with. The way the act is worded and structured it gives the officer the flexibility to make a decision, which is a good thing because we obviously want to have the ability to step in and make a difference in any situation where we find an animal to have obviously been mistreated and to perhaps still be in danger of some sort.”

Illinois already has a law on the books that prohibits the caging of animals in cars and the like during extended episodes of extreme weather temperatures. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that hundreds of animals trapped in parked vehicles perish each year, typically from heat exhaustion causes.

While he doesn’t expect the law to change much in the typical day of an officer, experience has taught O’Fallon Police Lt. David Matevey to take more of a wait-and-see attitude.

“We’ve always had the ability to seize animals we find have been mistreated and to seek medical care for them,” he said. “So, from that standpoint, nothing’s changed. I don’t know how this law actually reads yet, but I know anytime you have new legislation you have to wait see what its intent might be and the impact it might be having.”

Matevey added that’s why he feels it is so important that organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police continues to fight to have their place at the table when new laws impacting how law enforcement officers are allowed to go about doing their jobs are debated.

“Sometimes good intent may get lost in the wording of a law being proposed, which makes the law not too advantageous,” he said. “A lot of times, it comes down to the wording in terms of how viable a law may be for us to actually put to use.”

With the issue continuing to be one that can make the difference in life and death, states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania recently moved to slap stricter punishments on those found to be guilty of endangering animals during periods of severe weather conditions.

Keeven sees all of that as being a good thing.  

“This comes as another tool in our arsenal,” he said. “Any day we spend doing that where it works toward better serving the community in a safe and responsible way is a good thing.” 

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Edwardsville City Police Deparment Illinois Policy Institute O'Fallon Police Department

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