Liability could be yours if you feed strays in your neighborhood

Published: Nov. 21, 2008 at 10:44 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2008 at 3:18 AM CST
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In every East Texas county, there are stray dogs and cats, and in every East Texas county there are good hearted people who try to take care of them. But as KLTV 7's Bob Hallmark tells us, feeding an starving animal can make you liable for much more than you bargained for.

"I just figured if it's hungry, you should feed it," said Avid Trimble.

But taking care of a stray has a price under state law.

"Meaning, you are feeding stray dogs you are feeding stray cats and providing care for them, under the law the animal becomes yours," said Cris Kemper with Longview Animal Control.

Under the Texas Animal Health and Safety Code, "custody" includes responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of an animal, regardless on whether or not you own it. The problem, officials say, is strays go out and make more strays.

"People who have outdoor animals, if they would spay or neuter their animals, and they wouldn't be allowed to reproduce and overpopulate , there wouldn't be as many stray animals," said Kemper.

Another problem - rabies, or injuries caused by strays.

"Under state law, you're required to give the animal annual vaccination. You could be held accountable for that animals actions, if that animal harms a person bites a person scratches a person of damages a persons property, you could be liable."

But some East Texans tell us they don't think this law makes sense.

"I didn't know about that law. I think it's crazy. Just another crazy law,"

"I couldn't believe it, because I was being compassionate and helping the animal,"

Even some of us at KLTV have fed strays.

"I just saw it wandering around and it looked hungry and thirsty so I put something out for it," said Veronica Martinez, a KLTV sales assistant.

Bottom line, according to the state: Don't feed it if you're not going to take care of it. Sadly, of all the strays that animal control brings in, 8 out of 10 end up euthanized in local shelters. Animal control asks that all pet owners, even those caring for strays, have their animals spayed and neutered.

Bob Hallmark, Reporting