Mass. High Court: Police Don’t Need Warrants To Remove Dogs In Distress

Even without a warrant, police can enter a home to help an animal in distress. That’s the ruling Friday from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Responding to a neighbor’s call in January of 2011, police saw what appeared to be two frozen, dead dogs in a yard, and another dog in very poor shape.

They eventually entered the property, got help for the dog, and later charged Heather Duncan with animal cruelty. Police say they acted using an emergency aid exception to rules requiring warrants.

But in front of the state’s high court in December, defense attorney Travis Jacobs argued this could infringe on the constitutional rights of humans.

“How do you tell what a distressful meow is or a distressful bark? You can’t then have the cat or the dog come in to court and testify that, ‘Yes. I was in distress. I was injured and I needed aid.'”

One big question at the hearing: what kinds of animals would police be allowed to go save. The justices ultimately decided to take a wide view, saying some factors – like species – need to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

For New England Public Radio, I’m Sam Hudzik.