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Dog Ordinances: Texas Cities Putting a Paw Down Against Vicious Pets

Many, if not all, Texas cities have at least some regulations when it comes to dogs and other pets. The extent of pet-related ordinances varies from city to city.

As discussed in previous Randle Law Office blogs, some cities have ordinances in place to control dogs who won’t stop barking. Others have ordinances in place which prevent owners from leaving their dogs tied up in extreme heat or cold. Some rules protect citizens from unruly canines while others protect defenseless dogs from neglectful owners. But what about dog-on-dog crime?

Some cities are now enacting “vicious dog” ordinances to ban dogs who have inflicted extreme injuries upon other animals in the past. Last month, the City of Corpus Christi adopted a vicious dog ordinance designed to keep violent canines, from setting foot (or paw) within the city’s limits. The City’s Animal Care Services department (ACS) receives multiple calls each month about unrestrained dogs attacking or even killing a beloved family pet. While the City had some regulations in place, there was relatively little punishment for the owner of a vicious dog who allowed their malicious animal to roam free.

Under the new vicious dog ordinance, it’s against the law to possess a vicious dog within the city limits. “It’s more to hold our pet owners accountable right now, because right now there is no accountability,” Corpus Christi’s Director of ACS, Mike Gillis said when the ordinance was proposed, according to a local news report.

“If I let my dog out and it kills another dog, big deal. I’m gonna get a ticket because my dog wasn’t on a leash,” Gillis added. Prior to the passage of the vicious dog ordinance, the only recourse for pet-on-pet crime was to fine the dog’s owner for allowing the hound to roam free. Previously, if a dog maimed or even killed another animal, the dog’s owner would receive nothing more than a ticket for their dog being off-leash. The punishment didn’t exactly fit the crime. The City decided to do something about this disparity and followed a model set out by other cities, like Austin, which have enacted similar vicious dog regulations.

So who determines if a dog is “vicious”? The new policy is a sort of one-strike and you’re out. A dog can be declared vicious for a single incident, but the incident must reach a pretty extreme level. Under the new regulation, a dog can be deemed vicious only if it has either 1) killed another domesticated animal; or 2) seriously injured another animal. There are of course procedural restrictions which apply to the new regulation.

Under the new law, ACS gathers the evidence. The case then goes through a court proceeding where a judge decides whether or not to deem the dog “vicious.” A dog cannot be found vicious by way of injuring another animal unless a veterinarian presents an affidavit stating that the injured animal’s life was seriously endangered or that the animal suffered a significant permanent impairment of its basic bodily functions or mobility. There is also a provision built into the ordinance which prevents a dog from being declared vicious if, at the time of the incident, the injured animal was on the loose or violating another City ordinance. It can be thought of as a sort of stand-your-ground defense for dogs protecting their yard from intruders.

If the dog is found to be vicious, the penalty is a harsh one. The dog is no longer welcome within the City limits. The pet’s owner would have to find a new home for the dog outside of the city, or potentially be forced to surrender it to Animal Care Services.

Pets are a major part of many people’s lives. Some view their pups as a member of the family. Cities are taking notice, and many are taking steps to ensure the safety of not just their citizens, but their four-legged friends as well.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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