Vague state laws limit arrests for pets, livestock left outside in extreme cold

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. – Law enforcement agencies across central Indiana are dealing with a litany of animal distress calls due to the arctic weather. At times the chill is proving deadly, but authorities may be hamstrung to make an arrest.

The Indianapolis Animal Control Shelter (IACS) found one dog frozen to death in Indy, while a zebra in Carroll County died after being stuck in its own outdoor fencing.

Hamilton County spent Wednesday fielding calls about dogs being outside at an Arcadia kennel, only to find the animals to be safe according to state statutes.

"They are in good shape, our animal control officer has been up there several times, and continues to check and monitor the well-being of those animals. They have igloo kennels, their water is being warmed, and not frozen, they have adequate food," Captain Mark Bowen of the Hamilton County Sheriff's office said. "The laws are somewhat vague in general, clearly we can't address every circumstance through that."

In some of these cases authorities are finding it difficult to arrest people because the laws aren't as clear or direct. In Marion County, all animals have to be taken inside when it's this cold, but in Hamilton County all they need is a shelter, food, and water that isn't frozen.

"My worry and fear is these dogs have been out there this long, that they aren't going to make it," Veterinary Assistant Karlee Lantzer said.

Lantzer and other Hamilton County residents have started a petition to get the state law changed.  They want to see a clear definition of when animals need to be brought inside.  So far, the petition is growing, and was approaching 2,500 signatures in less than 24 hours.  If you want to sign it yourself you can here.

"It started out just trying to get at least 200 signatures, and that happened within an hour," Lantzer said. "We at least need something in place for when we do have cold times like this, that there is something done about it."

The Hamilton County Humane Society (HCHS) is pushing to change the laws as well, and they are hoping to do so this year.

“What is lacking in the ordinance is a degree temperature," Megan Gonterman of HCHS said, "if it's this cold or this warm outside, than your animal has to come inside."

If you’re concerned about your animal being outside, and can’t bring it inside, HCHS is willing to help find a solution. They encourage people to call.

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