Protecting Animal Rescue First Responders

If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for feel-good videos on Facebook and Youtube. You know the ones – soldiers returning from deployment or over the top proposals - but my favorite genre of these videos are animal rescue videos. I know. I know. “Why do you do this to yourself,” you ask. Even though these videos make me “ugly cry” every time, I love being reminded of the good that is still in this world, and seeing everyone come together to save the most vulnerable creatures.

Many times in these videos, a first responder is rescuing a loved companion from a house on fire or propelling down the side of a cliff to rescue a dog who has fallen. These videos always end with the animal safe and sound in the arms of the rescuer who saved them, and sometimes there’s an after-story of the first responder adopting the animal they saved.

Though these videos guarantee a heartwarming ending, the situations these animals and first responders are in are very real and very dangerous – it’s real life. And in real life, not every story ends happily, though we wish they did. Unfortunately, there is always the risk during a rescue mission that the first responder does not save whoever they are trying to save, including an animal.

If a situation was to occur that a first responder was not able to save an animal in danger, or injuries to the animal were sustained during the rescue, there is a possibility that the owner of the companion involved may take the first responder to civil court for damages, negligence or emotional distress. Or, try to get compensation for the cost of veterinary treatment for an injury.

There is so much emotion tied into our loved animals, which is only heightened by a situation involving the rescue of that companion. So, it may not be as uncommon as we think that someone would take a first responder to court, which is why South Carolina lawmakers recently took action to protect emergency responders from such a thing.

On January 8, 2019, a bill, sponsored by Representatives Chip Huggins and Chris Wooten, was introduced to the House. This bill (H.3373) would amend the South Carolina Code of Laws (1976 Code) by adding a new section – Section 15-3-710. This section would provide immunity to first responders, who were responding to an emergency situation, from civil liability in the case that there were any damages to a domestic animal during any first aid services.

Specifically, the amendment reads as follows:

“(A) A first responder acting without malice, recklessness or gross negligence, who renders emergency care of treatment to a domestic animal, is immune from civil liability or injuries or harm to the domestic animal resulting from the rendering of such care in the course of responding to an emergency prior to transferring the domestic animal to a license veterinarian for further treatment.”

After this bill was introduced and read for the first time in the House, it was referred to the Judiciary Committee for consideration. It is currently waiting for a hearing to determine whether the bill will be voted on or tabled.

If you are interested in tracking the progress of H.3373, visit the South Carolina Legislature’s website: ‘Quick Search” 3373 to review its history in the House and future changes. You can even sign up to receive email notifications when any changes are made.

For a full list of current state animal welfare legislation, you can review Chapter 3 Title 47 – “Animals, Livestock and Poultry” on the SC Legislature’s website listed above.

Though this bill has not become law yet, it is important to know the good work lawmakers are doing on behalf of the animals and those saving animals. And, as a sister of an amazing EMT brother, I support this bill and its mission to protect first responders during animal rescues.

An Aiken native and self-proclaimed cat lady, Claire R. Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Communications Director. She attended College of Charleston, where she graduated with a degree in Nonprofit Business and interned with Charleston Animal Society, the leader in No-Kill South Carolina. Her family includes her husband, Logan, adopted black lab Ozzy, and two always-hungry kitties, Anakin and Luna (plus, in spirit, her late pup Sophie).

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The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a

tax-exempt 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization.

EIN: 57-0329782

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