Texas animal cruelty bill makes progress in state legislature

Proposed law would address loopholes in current law regarding tethering dogs outside

Texas animal cruelty bill makes progress in state legislature

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A Texas bill written to give animal cruelty laws sharper teeth is making progress in Austin. House Bill 940 was passed by the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The bill is now on a list to be sent to the House floor. An East Texas case of animal cruelty is part of the push to make it law.

“We were called out to this situation with the Longview Police Department where this dog had frozen to death,” recalled Longview Animal Services Manager Chris Kemper.

It was a cold day in January 2014 when police and animal control officers found Chico dead at a home on Thirteenth Street. Chico was still chained and without shelter from the cold. His owner was convicted of animal cruelty, but Kemper says the law needs to do more.

“It was a situation where our system worked in terms of punishment. We were able to deal with the situation. We were able to prosecute and get a conviction. But the hope in a situation like that is to prevent dogs like Chico from dying,” he said.

For Kemper, that’s what House Bill 940 is about - prevention. In March, Kemper was invited to testify at a hearing for Texas lawmakers about why this legislation is needed.

“Right now, what the state law says, what the penal code says, is you have to provide food, water, care, and shelter to the extent necessary to maintain an animal in good health,” Kemper said. “The problem with that is under that provision, we have to wait until the animal has been injured or has died before we can go in and deal with a lack of shelter.”

If passed, the bill prohibits an owner from leaving a dog unattended outside on a restraint unless adequate shelter and water is provided. The proposed law also prohibits the use of metal chains, with certain exceptions. And it eliminates a 24-hour “warning only period” that Kemper says keeps animal control and law enforcement from acting when animals are in imminent danger.

“In 2007, Texas passed a tethering law that is very difficult to enforce. In fact, since 2007 charges have never been filed in association with that bill," Kemper said.

HB 940 is about clarifying that law and closing the loopholes, according to Kemper.

"This bill is truly about prevention opposed to the penal code, which is more about punishment,” he said.

Under House Bill 940, a first-time offense would be a Class-C misdemeanor. Repeat violations would be Class B misdemeanors. If passed, the bill would take effect Sept. 1.

Representative Jay Dean has signed on as a sponsor of the bill.

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