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The Animal Abuse and Cruelty Laws of Texas

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An accusation of animal abuse in Texas is a serious charge. If you’ve been accused of abusing livestock or a pet animal, you need help from a criminal defense lawyer in Houston. The laws protecting animals in Texas are complex and challenging to understand. In some cases, a conviction of an animal abuse crime can bring a harsher sentence than your action merits. It’s important to know that Texas animal cruelty laws protect only wild animals in the care or control of a facility or domesticated animals.

Have you or someone you know been charged with animal abuse in the greater Houston area? Contact attorney Brett Podolsky today and receive the best legal defense possible.

Certain activities may bring misdemeanor liability, such as not providing food, water, and shelter to an animal, while others are considered felonies, such as torturing animals. Depending on the charge severity, you may face jail time, fines, or both. If you’ve been accused of an act of animal cruelty in Texas, you need aggressive criminal defense.

Animal Abuse Laws in Texas

A wide range of behaviors may be deemed abusive towards non-livestock domesticated or wild animals sheltered in a Texas facility. Intentional or severe mistreatment of an animal may prompt an investigation of animal abuse. Texas Penal Code § 42.09 details the behaviors that may be considered abusive to animals under Texas law. Subsection (i) was included in the 2001 amendments to the law. The sub-section increased both felony grades and fines for repeat offenders. Defendants who are under the age of 18 must also submit to counseling if convicted of criminal animal cruelty.

Texas’s first animal abuse felony laws were added in 1997. In 2001, the law also defined dangerous wild animal to include exotic animals like lions, chimpanzees, tigers, bears, leopards, and others. A dangerous wild animal must be registered in the Texas county in which it’s located. The law establishes minimum requirements for keeping a dangerous wild animal, such as treatment standards and enclosure pen size requirements.

The law doesn’t apply to research facilities, television or motion picture companies, circus owners, zoos, biomedical research, or college mascots. Some counties in Texas haven’t administered or implemented certification programs outlined by the law even though these were statutorily required by December 1, 2001.

The Office of the Texas Attorney General clarified the duties Texas counties have regarding registration of dangerous wild animals: 1) the county may prohibit ownership of these animals, or 2) establish a registration program to make certain the animals are properly cared for and contained. If you’re an exotic animal owner and someone is accusing you of animal abuse or cruelty in Texas, reach out to a criminal defense attorney now.

A police investigation, arrest, detainment, and prosecution may ensue on one or more animal abuse charges. Texas animal abuse laws are broadly written. For instance, a serious bodily injury to an animal may cover a range of injuries.

According to “The International Handbook of Animal Abuse and Cruelty,” (2010) prosecutors express frustration with a “high burden” regarding proving a felony under the Texas anti-cruelty statute.

Differences Between Animal Neglect and Animal Abuse

Animal abuse may become a crime in Texas when a domesticated animal is tortured, transported, or confined in a cruel manner; cruelly confined; killed, seriously injured, or poisoned; used in fighting (e.g., cockfighting is illegal in Texas); used as a lure in a race (Texas Penal Code § 42.10, dog fighting); or seriously overworked. Intentionally tripping a horse or injuring an animal that doesn’t belong to you (other than cattle, goats, horses, swine, or sheet) is also considered a criminal act in Texas.

Animal neglect is more narrowly defined by Texas law. It may be committed by failing to provide food, water, shelter, and care to an animal or abandoning the animal.

Jail Time and Penalties

Texas law details differences in severity of each animal cruelty crime. Differences in charges and penalties apply. If convicted of a single count of animal abuse, you may face up to one year in county jail, supervised probation, and community service, plus a fine of up to $4,000. If convicted, any animals in your direct care may be confiscated by a local humane society or law enforcement. You may be prohibited from owning animals in the future or for a period of time.

If you were previously convicted of animal abuse, a subsequent conviction of animal abuse may be upgraded to a felony charge. The punishment for a state jail felony charge is a minimum sentence of 180 days – two years to a maximum of 10 years in prison. You may be required to pay a maximum $10,000 fine plus jail time.

If you’re convicted of animal cruelty, these consequences may permanently change your life. A conviction will have lasting effects on your employment, family, and relationships.

Defending Against an Animal Cruelty Charge

Texas Penal Code § 42.09 includes provisions that may be used when defending a charge of animal abuse, including:

  • The defendant killed an animal in an act of self-defense
  • The animal was killed or injured in a legal hunting occurrence
  • The animal was killed or injured after discovery that it threatened other livestock or animals

For instance, Jack is a farmer in Harris County. He keeps egg-laying chickens on the property. Coyotes are killing the chickens. To stop the coyotes, he lays poison traps. After ingesting poison, he finds a coyote in severe distress. He shoots the coyote to end its suffering. A neighbor sees Jack’s action and contacts the local police to report alleged animal cruelty.

Because Jack didn’t act recklessly or intentionally or knowingly engage in an act of animal cruelty, he may have a defense to an animal cruelty charge. Notably, the wild coyotes weren’t in the care of a facility. He acted only to protect his chickens from being killed by coyotes.

Let’s imagine another case. June keeps eight cats in a house. She doesn’t live with the cats but stops by to feed them from time to time. A neighbor believes that June is hoarding cats and expresses concerned that June might not provide the food, care, and shelter required by § 42.09.

Local law enforcement charges June with animal cruelty. Several veterinarians check on June’s cats. The cats are in good health.

Her defense attorney is concerned by the legal phrases “food, care, or shelter” and “required to maintain the animal(s) in a state of good health.” He argues that the phrase is vague and that, according to several veterinarians, the cats are healthy.

June may have a defense against the accusation that she commits animal cruelty by keeping cats in a house. To convict her of a felony under the Texas anti-cruelty statute, the local prosecutor must demonstrate that she intentionally tortured or injured the cats.

Hire a Defense Attorney

If you or someone you love is accused of animal cruelty, you need an experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney with the tools to build a defense against any charge you’re facing. Call Houston criminal defense attorney Brett Podolsky for a free initial case review now.

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