Kerrville Pets Alive hosted a workshop last week to educate the community on several new laws passed in the most recent session of the Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Abbott related to more humane treatment of animals. The new laws went into effect Sept. 1.
Approximately 60 people were in attendance, including law enforcement (deputy constables in the animal services department), several elected officials, and the students in the pre-veterinary program at Schreiner University.
The workshop presenter was Shelby Bobosky, Executive Director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network whose mission is to promote the humane treatment of animals through legislation and advocacy.
“I made clear to Shelby that our workshop was to be educational and not a political event,” said Karen Guerriero, president of Kerrville Pets Alive.
Bobosky defined for those in attendance some of the Texas laws dealing with animal cruelty, hoarding of animals and whether leaving a dog in a hot car was illegal under Texas law. She also provided information about people who are animal abusers who later become violent with humans.
Under current Texas law abandoning an animal is not considered animal cruelty, nor is hoarding considered animal cruelty, according to Bobosky. Each of these issues becomes a civil issue and the case usually goes to a justice of the peace or municipal court judge to determine action to be taken.
If an animal that is confined inside a hot car is in immediate danger, a peace officer can remove it from a car, but a concerned citizen does not have the authority to do it. The person who calls law enforcement to the scene under Section 42.092 of the Texas Government Code will have to prove “cruelty.”
Animal cruelty can also lead to more serious crimes later in life.
“In the 2022 Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, the perpetrator previously committed animal abuse and displayed videos of the cruelty to users on social media platforms. He allegedly boasted about how he and his friends ‘did it all the time.’ There was a graphic video showing him sitting in a car holding a clear bag with two dead cats inside. He’s grinning and shows no remorse while he’s holding the dead cats,” Bobosky said.
Bobosky provided a report on the laws passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year that dealt with animal issues. Three of the four laws went into effect on Sept. 1, but the fourth ws declared unconstitutional by a Texas court.
Senate Bill 876/House Bill 2238, known as the “Puppy Mill Law,” addresses breeding facilities around the state. Texas has about 150 licensed large-scale dog and cat breeders and an estimated 400 non-licensed facilities. The Puppy Mill Law reduces the number of breeding females and does away with law on the number of puppies that can be sold in a year. The new law says a breeder can have no more than five breeding females and does away with the sales limit totally. The law provides a grace period for breeders until Jan. 1, 2024, to allow them time to come into compliance with the new law.
HB 598 Provides for a five-year ban on ownership of a cat or dog after a person has been convicted of animal cruelty. It closes a significant gap in Texas law to prevent future violence by disrupting the offender’s access to animals for a significant, but not open-ended, period of time.
Senate Bill 4164, known as the “Service Dog Bill” addresses an issue that has developed in recent years after as sharp increase in the number of non-disabled people represent their pet dogs as service animals so their pets can accompany them in public spaces. The incidents of pet dogs distracting and attacking service animals have diminished the quality of life for disabled people who rely on service animals to navigate daily life. The Service Dog Bill increases the penalty for falsely representing pets as trained service animals and increases the fine for doing so from $300 to $1,000. The offender may also be required to perform 30 hours of community service for an organization serving persons with disabilities.
The last bill passed by the Texas Legislature, HB3360/SB1682, was ruled as unconstitutional. The bill provided an exception to the animal cruelty laws for persons who trap feral cats, to transport them to a veterinarian clinic for spay/neuter and vaccinations, which includes tipping the ear of the cat as a sign they have been treated.
According to Bobosky, professionals involved with animal cruelty investigations or assisting victims of family violence understand these actions are often linked and the various agencies and organizations are working with the same families.
Guerriero pointed out that the workshop supported what many advocacy groups already knew, how difficult it is to prove animal cruelty in Texas.
“The laws are the problem. It’s very difficult to go down that path because it begins to fizzle,” Guerriero said.
216th District Attorney Lucy Wilke, who attended the event, agreed that the laws need to be clarified by the state and agreed that it was hard to prosecute cases in court. Wilke said lack of information and people recanting their story were major obstacles in prosecuting animal cruelty cases, and that most animal cruelty cases are misdemeanor offenses.
Three rescue groups were also present for the presentation, including Warrior’s Heart from Bandera that works with animals to become service dogs for veterans. Freeman Fritts Animal Shelter and the Big Fix project also had people at the workshop.
Guerriero described the video that Bobosky showed about animal cruelty cases and the history of school shooting that had a link back to animal abuse in the past. The incidence of dumping animals is also a major issue locally for animal control officers and local rescue organizations.
“Our goal in hosting this event is to bring all the entities in the community together who deal with all levels of abuse, elderly, spousal, family, child and animal abuse. We want to bring everyone to the table to discuss and share the information of how abuse is often linked together with other incidents,” Guerriero added.
The National Link Coalition which keeps statistics on animal cruelty cases linked to other more serious violence provide the data that the median age that animal cruelty in early childhood begins at age 6 1/2, and animal cruelty acts by children are an indicator that the child is a risk to themselves or to others.
The Texas Human Legislation Network is the only organization of its type in the state of Texas and has been the “mainstream voice for animals in Texas” since 1975. One of the group’s biggest accomplishments was to pass legislation in 1997 that created an “animal friendly” fund for the state through the sale of specialty license plates that has raised millions in funding to be used to help municipalities with the overpopulation crisis by covering low cost spay/neuter surgeries.