It's officially winter, and with cold, wet weather on the way, Senator Mark Montigny is reminding pet owners of new state laws in effect that prevent animal abuse and suffering.

"You would think people who have animals would love animals, would treat them with dignity, but unfortunately, that's not always the case, which is why I wrote this law," Senator Montigny told WBSM News. "People associate it with heat in the summer, but it can be equally dangerous to leave a pet in the car when the temperature is dangerously low, not to mention people who leave their dog tethered outside overnight in the cold and the snow."

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures around New Bedford next week will reach highs in the upper 20s. Pet owners are reminded to keep their animals indoors.

The law, which passed in April of this year, states that a dog shall not be chained or tethered for longer than five hours in a 24-hour period, and outside from 10 pm until 6 am, unless the tethering is for not more than 15 minutes, and the dog is not left unattended.

The law further prohibits leaving a dog outside when a weather advisory, warning or watch is issued, or when outside environmental conditions, such as extreme cold or snow, pose an adverse risk to the health or safety of the dog based on the dog's breed, age or physical condition. The law also prohibits leaving a pet inside a vehicle when temperatures could endanger the animal's health or safety.

"This is a reminder that you shouldn't need a law to, in a sense, prevent stupidity and meanness, but sometimes you do," Montigny said.

Montigny said he worked with closely with animal lovers, rescuers, advocates and veterinarians in the crafting of the law, which he said empowers those who care about animals to act when they see a situation of animal abuse. For example, the law allows a person, if they see a dog locked in a car in extreme temperatures, to smash the window if the dog is in distress.

"If an animal is in distress, you have the benefit of the doubt, because we want to save the animal," he said. "If you call law enforcement and wait for them to show up, the animal, in many cases, could be dead. So you do have to call law enforcement and let them know where you are, but you do not have to wait if the animal is in distress. You break the window, you're indemnified, you're protected."

Montigny said people have to use common sense before taking such actions, however.

"You can't use this as an excuse to attack your neighbor and break your neighbor's window," he said. "But if you call 9-1-1 when an animal is in distress, you have every right under the law to break into that car and save that animal before law enforcement arrives."

The penalties for not obeying the law range from significant fines to losing the right to own a pet. Montigny said many of the extreme cases of animal abuse are already covered by exisiting laws, and that the new law should really just be putting pressure on people to be more responsible pet owners.

"When you write a law like this, it isn't just for sanctions to apply," he said. "It's really to prevent the behavior in the first place, and I think that works."