Cruelty to animals is illegal in Texas, as it is across the country. The law in Texas is both broad and specific, covering many different forms of mistreatment. It also spells out the procedures for seizing and recovering abused pets. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers in Texas should know about.
Hurting, Neglecting, or Abandoning Animals
The main animal cruelty law in Texas makes it a crime to abuse pets in various way, including:
- torturing, seriously injuring, or killing an animal in a cruel way (causing unwarranted pain or suffering)
- poisoning, killing, or injuring another person’s animal without the owner’s consent
- not giving proper food, water, care, or shelter to an animal for whom you’re responsible
- abandoning an animal under your care (without reason)
- confining or transporting an animal in a cruel way.
A violation of this statute may be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the specific offense and the number of previous convictions for animal cruelty. (Tex. Penal Code § 42.092.)
Separate laws outlaw attacks on assistance animals, cruelty to livestock animals, and bestiality. (Tex. Penal Code §§ 21.09, 42.09, 42.091.)
Exceptions to the Animal Cruelty Law
There are several exceptions and defenses to animal cruelty charges, including:
- genuine scientific research
- legal fishing, hunting, trapping, or animal husbandry; and
- killing or injuring an animal on your property that you discovered when it injured or killed your livestock animals or damaged your crops
(Tex. Penal Code § 42.092(e), (f).)
Impounding Cruelly Treated Animals
In general, animal control or police officers need to get a warrant before impounding animals they believe have been cruelly treated (Tex. Health & Safety Code § 821.022). However, some Texas courts have found that officers can go onto property without a warrant and seize animals in plain sight if they appear to be mistreated. (See, for example, McCall v. State, 540 S.W.2d 717 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976).)
The court will promptly hold a hearing to decide whether animal cruelty took place. If it did, the owner will lose property rights to the animal and will have to pay all of the court costs, as well as the expenses of caring for and disposing of the animal. (Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 821.021-821.026.)
Leaving Dogs Tied Up
Texas dog owners aren’t allowed to leave dogs outside, unattended, and restrained in a way that limits the animal’s movement “unreasonably”—meaning that the chain or other restraint is too short or unsafe, or the collar is dangerous or poorly fitted. This rule applies only at night, in extreme weather conditions, or close to a school. There also are exceptions, including when it’s needed for training. Anyone convicted of this Class C misdemeanor will have to pay a fine of up to $500. (Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 821.076-081.)
Organized Dogfights and Cockfights
It’s a crime in Texas to be involved in dog fighting or cockfighting—including raising or training the dogs or birds, making them fight, or watching a fighting exhibition. The level of the crime (a Class A misdemeanor or state jail felony) depends on the type of participation. (Tex. Penal Code §§ 42.10, 42.105.) Under a separate law, it’s a misdemeanor to make any other animals fight each other. (Tex. Penal Code § 42.092(b)(7).)
Speaking With a Lawyer
If you’ve been accused of animal cruelty—or you’re worried about possible charges—it’s a good idea to speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
An attorney experienced in this area should be able to explain:
- details on relevant Texas laws
- how local authorities tend to interpret those laws
- ordinances in your local community that may apply to your situation
- how you might recover your pet if authorities have already taken it, and
- any defense you might have to criminal charges.
Other questions you might have for a lawyer include:
- My neighbor keeps his dog chained up outside all day in the hot sun. The animal is clearly suffering and chews its own skin from the stress. I’ve complained to the police and animal control officials, but no one will take any action. Would it be illegal for me to rescue the dog?
- Could I be charged with neglecting or abusing my cat because I don’t have the money for expensive vet treatment?
- Animal control officers came in my yard and took my dog after a neighbor complained about so-called abuse. Can they do that without a warrant? How can I get my pet back?
- I was charged with animal cruelty for poisoning my neighbor’s dog. But it wasn’t my fault: The dog got into the rat poison only after digging a hole under my fence. What can I do?