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Call Off the Dogs, We’re Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: New(er) Laws for Fido and Tiger

Dog and Cat at computer

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Are you a cat person? A dog person? Both? Well, then you might be interested in learning about two new laws adopted during the 88th Legislative Session in Texas that are intended to offer greater protection to animals and those that care for them.

The first such law was House Bill 3660, effective June 10, 2023, which extended protections to people who participate in Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) programs. TNR programs serve as a means by which cats in feral cat colonies are humanely cared for while their numbers are reduced over time. Feral cats are trapped, neutered or spayed, and vaccinated.  Once they have recovered, the cats are usually ear-tipped for easy identification that they are part of a TNR program, and then they are returned to their colony. Any kittens in the colony are usually adopted to caring homes. Spaying or neutering eliminates many problematic behaviors of stray cats such as spraying and fighting. Healthier vaccinated cat populations are less likely to spread diseases such as rabies. Well-managed TNR programs have also been credited with lowering shelter intake numbers for stray cats as well as their concomitant euthanasia rates.

Prior to HB 3660, a person could be held liable for cruelty to nonlivestock animals for participating in TNR programs. Texas Penal Code Section 42.092(b)(4) provides that a person who “unreasonably abandons an animal in the person’s custody” commits an animal cruelty offense, which is a Class A misdemeanor. Now pursuant to Penal Code Section 42.092 (e-1), “it is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (b)(4) that the actor released or returned a stray or feral animal which is not a wild living creature pursuant to a Trap-Neuter-Return Program.”

The second law was House Bill 598, effective, September 1, 2023, made it harder for those convicted of animal cruelty to have access to animals post-conviction. Prior to HB 598, a person who had been convicted of animal cruelty could own or live with an animal without legal repercussions. Those animals were at risk of being subjected to animal cruelty by that offender. Animal cruelty offenders are often more likely to later commit offenses against people.

HB 598 amended Chapter 42 of the Texas Penal Code to add Section 42.107 which prohibits a convicted animal cruelty offender from either owning or living with an animal for five years after conviction of: an attack on an assistance animal, cruelty to nonlivestock animals, dog fighting, or of a substantially similar federal or state law. A violation is a Class C misdemeanor. The law goes further to provide that a repeat offense is a Class B misdemeanor.

With any luck, both laws will be successful in helping to control stray pet populations and result in more humane care for all dogs and cats alike.

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. 

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