Bill requiring adequate shelter for dogs in Texas advances again

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Bill, calling for adequate shelter for dogs in Texas, moves forward again

The new proposal, like its predecessor, would amend the Health and Safety Code to make unlawful retention of a dog a criminal offense – and to clarify appropriate treatment.

Texas law requires humans to provide their dogs with adequate protection from extreme weather conditions. But when the Texas Humane Legislation Network asked about 1,000 cities for a list of law enforcements for the past two years in 2015, not a single ticket was returned, according to Executive Director Shelby Bobosky.

Animal rights activists say the lack of enforcement is the result of the flawed existing law that requires owners to provide 24 hour notice to correct any illegal treatment.

For the past six years, the animal rights nonprofit has been pushing for laws that allow for stricter enforcement of tethered dog laws. The group believed they succeeded in May when lawmakers approved such a measure. But Governor Greg Abbott shocked many by vetoing the law shortly thereafter.

Abbott is vetoing the Law to Protect Dogs Left Outside in Harsh Conditions

Abbott vetoed the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act, which would protect dogs left outside by their owners in dangerous conditions, claiming the state did not need the bill.

This month, with the issue back on the governor’s agenda, lawmakers are pushing in hopes of achieving the goal again. There is little difference between Senate Law 5, the bill presented during the third special session, and the one Abbott vetoed in June. The new proposal, like its predecessor, would amend the Health and Safety Code to make unlawful retention of a dog a criminal offense – and to clarify appropriate treatment.

Abbott vetoed the original bill, Abbott said the state’s existing laws already protect dogs by outlawing cruelty to animals. Texas, he said at the time, was no place for “micromanagement” and “over-criminalization”.

The original bill “would compel every dog ​​owner, under threat of criminal penalties, to do things like the cutting of the dog collar, the time the dog spends in the back of a truck and the ratio of tether to dog length, measured from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail”, said Abbott in his statement. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the story.

The Texas Humane Legislation Network was “shocked and disappointed” with the veto, said Bobosky, pointing to bipartisan support for the bill. She added that the group owed the return of the subject at this session to Texans and lawmakers who opposed the governor’s move. The new version has already been passed in the Senate and will be discussed in a hearing in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“If there wasn’t an outcry … it would still be something we would work on in the next legislature,” said Jamey Cantrell, president of the Texas Animal Control Association. “But taken together, the Texans who got through and made their voices heard are the ones who are really responsible for where we are right now.”

While Abbott previously said existing animal cruelty laws were sufficient, Cantrell stressed that the current lanyard law was unenforceable.

Bill author, Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said the changes were “minor” adjustments to the veto that “cleansed up the statute.”

“I’m just happy that we were able to advance the bill,” said Lucio, who has seven dogs. “I hope this will give many dogs a new life.”

Both versions prohibit the use of chains or heavy weights to restrain dogs. Both require tethered dogs to have access to a shelter in certain weather conditions. Both require that collars be made of “material specifically designed to be placed around a dog’s neck”. And both allow exceptions for activities such as herding, herding, farming, and hunting.

But the new bill uses a different language in certain sections, changes “in coordination with the governor’s office” that “do not affect the purpose of the bill,” said Bobosky.

The new bill refuses to specify what materials the dog collar must be made of. It states that animal shelters must protect dogs from “bad weather” which includes “rain, hail, sleet, snow, strong winds, extremely low temperatures or extremely high temperatures”. And it adds the word “sensible” when describing how long a dog can stay unattended on an outdoor truck bed.

While the changes loosen the language around collar tailoring and the time spent in a cargo bed, the new bill still requires that the restraint be no less than five times the dog’s length.

The Texas Animal Control Association has campaigned for this bill for several meetings, Cantrell said. He saw how his ideas were implemented in Plano, where he works as the head of the animal service. Before the city banned the use of tethers as permanent restraint, he said the problem had been occurring “all the time,” with ill-fitting collars and heavy chains sometimes cutting into dogs’ skin.

Since 2014, the Texas Humane Legislation Network has heard from police officers, shelter professionals, and animal rights activists – all saying the law needs to be fixed. After all this time, Bobosky said the group was “cautiously optimistic” that the law will become law.

“We need to have some basic standards for dogs that live outdoors permanently,” said Bobosky. “As we saw with the February storm, a lot of dogs perished – which was completely unnecessary – because there is no definition of an appropriate shelter.”

More updates from The Texas Tribune

Redistribution high on the agenda for the third special session of the Texas Legislature
Governor Greg Abbott will convene the third special session beginning September 20th
Abbott is vetoing the Law to Protect Dogs Left Outside in Harsh Conditions
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