WVU Medicine changes policies about unattended animals in vehicles

MORGANTOWN — Security officers at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital will now contact police immediately upon discovering unattended animals left in vehicles in the hospital’s parking lot, following the creation of a written policy on the subject.

“It’s time to have a written policy,” WVU Medicine spokesperson Amy Johns said.

The policy still needs to undergo an official review process, but Johns said hospital security is already abiding by the new policy.

It was created after the death of April, a 10-year-old Boston terrier, on June 8. Previously, officers followed a verbal protocol that instructed them to alert police if the dog appeared to be in distress, she said. Denise Vanglider, 53, of Buckhannon, was charged with cruelty to animals by the Morgantown Police Department.

Johns said more and more animals are being found unattended in recent years due to the hospital’s growth and the increased number of out-of-town patients and visitors.

“It’s a terrible thing,” she said of animals left unattended. Johns urged visitors and patients to leave their pets at home.

Scott Bierer, director of facilities, was involved in drafting the new policy and said it was crafted with the intent of preventing another sad incident. Bierer said he believes people don’t leave their animals in cars with malice, but the stress of dealing with treatment or the treatment of a loved one can cause them to forget.

The new policy

Officers must now notify dispatchers to alert Morgantown Police of the situation, regardless of the distress level of the animal. Next, the outside temperature is checked, and if it’s above 60 degrees, security personnel are to attempt to remove the animal from the vehicle — first by checking for unlocked doors.

If the doors are locked and the animal does not appear to be in distress, officers should use an unlock kit to access the vehicle; breaking the window is authorized if the animal appears to be distressed.  If the outside temperature is below 60 degrees, officers are to wait at the car until police arrive.

All six of the hospital’s security vehicles are now equipped with a leash, bowl and bottles of water, Bierer said.

The freed animal’s demeanor determines what happens next. If the animal is aggressive, security should leave it in the vehicle with the door open to allow airflow. Friendly or docile animals are to be leashed and taken to a shaded area. In both cases, the dog is given water using the new equipment.

After city police officers arrive, they will get the vehicle owner’s information, which security will then check against the hospital’s patient list. If the vehicle owner is not a patient, security will contact management for authorization to page the owners, according to the policy. From there, police handle the situation.

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