Anyone who leaves a pet outside unattended in extreme weather conditions could be found guilty of animal cruelty and could face stiff fines and possible jail time under State Sen. Jeff Van Drew's plan.

A proposed NJ law would offer more protection for pets. (Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)

He said he also wanted to require owners to take their pets with them or shelter them if an evacuation is ordered.

"We understand that animals can't be in perfect conditions all the time, but when it gets very hot or very cold they need to have shelter. That's one of the important parts of the bill -  that there would be adequate relief during extreme temperatures," said Van Drew (D-cape May Court House).

The measure to which van Drew was referring (S-2968) would make it a violation of the State animal cruelty laws to leave a cat, dog, or other domestic companion animal unattended outdoors when the outside temperature is 32 degrees or less, or 90 degrees or more. A violator could be liable for civil penalties of up to $2,000 and failure to provide necessary care would be a disorderly persons offense, a fourth degree crime or a third degree crime depending on the consequences of failure to do so.

"My bill also says if an evacuation is ordered that you take your pet with you and if you're unable to take your pet with you that you try to make arrangements for a safety shelter. They're part of the family and they deserve to be as safe as they possibly and reasonably can be," Van Drew said.

The legislation does not address feral or outdoor cats and the senator conceded there was still work to do on the measure. He said he wants it to be as reasonable as possible for as many people as possible and he would entertain all ideas that could improve the bill.

Van Drew has a long history of drafting bills designed to protect animals. He admitted he has introduced so many even he can remember exactly how many. They include:

  • Allowing pets on public transportation during evacuations;
  • Stricter stronger enforcement of a state law requiring antifreeze manufacturers to add a bittering agent to the sweet-tasting liquid in an effort to protect pets and wildlife; and
  • A measure that said leaders of New Jersey dogfighting rings could be charged under the same anti-racketeering laws used to prosecute mobsters and face sentences of up to 20 years.

Asked in a phone interview if he was a "pet's best friend" in the State Legislature, Van Drew laughed, but he also responded, saying, "I certainly want to be one of their best friends."

There are no statistics kept on how many pets die annually in the U.S. when left outside unattended in extreme weather conditions according to  Tips for keeping pets safe outdoors and recommendations for what to do if you see an animal left outside in very hot or very cold temperatures can be found at