Lawyer Lloyd

posted March 15th, 2012 by
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by Lloyd Benedict

Dear Lawyer Lloyd:

 Can I call 911 for my pet? For instance, what if my dog swallows a tennis ball, but it gets stuck in his throat and I panic. Can I call 911, or would I be “in trouble” for using that service for a pet? What would be the best thing to do

I saw a story on television years ago about this very thing and the girl threw the dog in the car and was hysterically driving to the animal E.R., but came upon a fire station and ran in screaming. The firemen jumped in to help and did the Heimlich on the dog, and it survived.

Thank you,

JoAnne from Tulsa

Dear JoAnne:

 The technical legal answer to your question is “No way, Jose.” 911 is for emergencies that require response from police, fire, or emergency medical services for humans. In other words, no pet medical emergencies will be responded to by 911. According to the City of Tulsa website, persons should only call 9-1-1 to report a crime, fire, heart attack, other serious medical condition or injury, or any situation requiring the IMMEDIATE response of a FIRE TRUCK, AMBULANCE or LAW ENFORCEMENT VEHICLE. The site also points out that nearly half of the 2,000 calls answered daily by the 911 Center aren’t even for emergencies.

Some examples of non-emergency calls include: injured animals, dead animal pick-up, leash laws, legal questions, obtaining official police reports, jail-related questions, status of police investigations and changing smoke detector batteries, to name just a few.

However, there should be no confusion that 911 will absolutely respond to certain emergencies where animals are involved. For example, 911 will dispatch emergency responders for vicious dogs or a person being bitten or attacked, or otherwise injured by an animal. Another example where 911 would respond is when animals are running loose and are creating, or are about to create, a traffic hazard, along with calls involving animal cruelty in progress.

I have also discovered that the City of Tulsa appears to contradict itself on this issue. That is to say, if you go to another page on their website, specifically www.cityoftulsa.org/cityservices/ animal-welfare/information-services.aspx, it clearly states that “if you have an emergency, such as a vicious dog or an animal in distress, please call (918) 669-6280 or 911.”

Because of that contradiction, and to answer your question as to whether you can get in trouble for calling 911 if your animal is choking, I decided to contact Mr. Terry Baxter, the Interim Director of the City of Tulsa 911 Public Safety Communications. Mr. Baxter reviewed Tulsa’s website and is now recommending that the site be changed to remove their previous suggestion of calling 911 if an animal is in distress. However, they will leave the other suggested telephone number (918) 669-6280, which is Tulsa’s Non-Emergency number. Mr. Baxter also informed me that if a person was to currently call 911 with an animal emergency medical situation, that person would be transferred to the Non-Emergency number for assistance, and 911 would not offer advice nor send emergency responders.

Concerning whether a person could get in trouble for calling 911 with pet medical emergencies, Mr. Baxter said he or she would not per se get in trouble for an honest mistake, but added if that person routinely or intentionally calls with those situations, he or she could be prosecuted as that may be considered a crime. In fact, Oklahoma Statute Title 63 section 2819 states:

No person shall call 911 for the purpose of making a knowingly false alarm or complaint or reporting knowingly false information which could result in the dispatch of emergency services from any public agency… Nor shall any person call 911 for non-emergency or personal use. Any person violating the provisions of this section, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 and by an assessment for the resulting costs of any dispatching of emergency personnel and equipment for each such offense.

Mr. Baxter also offered a great suggestion that if you own a pet, then it would be helpful to put your chosen vet’s number, as well as a veterinary hospital phone number, on the refrigerator with all of the other applicable emergency numbers. 

One Response to “Lawyer Lloyd”

  1. charles rodgers says:

    This has been very helpful now i know whom to call during a pet emergency thank you

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