Hill County Paw Pals, Hill County, Texas

A Primer: Texas Animal Cruelty Laws

Section 42.09 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits the intentional cruel treatment of animals. Under current Texas Law, cruel treatment of animals is forbidden. The following actions define cruel punishment:

1. Torturing an animal
2. Failing to provide food, care or shelter
3. Abandoning an animal (*see note below)
4. Transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner
5. Killing, seriously injuring or poisoning an animal
6. Causing an animal to fight with another (see info on recently passed Texas Legislature HB 916 here).
7. Using a live animal as a lure in a dog race
8. Tripping a horse
9. Injuring an animal belonging to another person
10. Seriously overworking an animal.

(* Note: Texas law defines abandonment (“dumping”) as the act of abandoning an animal in the person’s custody without making reasonable arrangements for assumption of custody by another person. “Custody” includes responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of an animal subject to the person’s care and control, regardless of ownership of the animal. When an animal is in a person’s custody, the law states necessary food, care, and shelter must be provided to the extent required to maintain the animal is in a state of good health.)

People who resort to this senseless behavior of abandonment can be punished under the Texas Animal Cruelty Act as a Class A Misdemeanor under Texas Penal Code 42.09 which carries a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail. This offense becomes a state jail felony if the person has been convicted two previous times.

Section 42.10 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits dog fighting, and also deems offensive such activities as attending a dog fight as a spectator, or participating in the earnings or operation of a dog fighting facility. The Texas Legislature passed this year HB916 which deals with dog fighting. Please see more about HB 916 here.

House Bill 653 and Senate Bill 1724, commonly known as “Loco’s Law,” went into effect September 1, 2001, making animal cruelty a felony and punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail. The law was named for a puppy called Loco, whose eyes were intentionally gouged out. Prior to Loco’s Law, animal cruelty was not considered a felony under Texas law. Today, animal cruelty convictions are classified as either a felony or misdemeanor.

Two types of laws protect animals from cruelty: Criminal laws and civil laws. The laws are similar but differ in the penalties they impose. If prosecuted in a criminal case, a person may face penalties including fines, jail or both. Those under the age of 18 are also required to undergo counseling if convicted of animal cruelty. In a civil case, a person convicted of animal cruelty may have to pay damages to the animal’s owner and/or have their animals taken away. Texas criminal laws only apply to domesticated animals, such as house pets and livestock defined as “domesticated living creature(s) or any wild living creature previously captured” and subject to a person’s care and control. The scope of civil laws are broader and do not differentiate between domestic and wild animals; however, civil statutes adopt a much narrower definition of what constitutes cruelty. Therefore, people could engage in actions that are not prosecutable under Texas criminal laws, but they would be held liable for their actions under civil laws.

Texas law prohibits communities from resorting to euthanasia by any other means than what is mandated by Texas Health & Safety Code, Chapter 821 (Treatment & Disposition of Animals), Subchapter C. This directive requires all animals in animal shelters be euthanized in a humane manner with only one of two methods by a licensed veterinarian or certified technician: administrating sodium pentobarbital or commercially compressed carbon monoxide. A violation of any provision of Subchapter C is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor which carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail or a fine of up to $2,000 or both. Any private citizen may petition a court to stop action violating any provision of Subchapter C or any DSHS regulation. Simply stated, officials from communities can not capture and eliminate “strays” other than as previously described. Compared to other states, Texas’ animal cruelty statutes are very narrow in scope because they exclude certain types of animals—including circus animals, wild animals and animals used in experiments—from protection from animal cruelty laws.