Governor Gregg Abbott of Texas vetoed a bill on Friday, June 25th, 2021, expanding animal cruelty laws that include the unlawful restraining of dogs as a criminal offense.
The State Senate Bill 474, termed the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act, had overwhelming support from both sides of the camp with a vote of 83-32 in the house and 28-3 in the senate. It proposes to prohibit the use of heavy chains and short chains to tether the dog.
New Proposed Penalties Found To Be Excessive
The surprise ruling from the Republican Governor prompted animal rights groups, dog lovers, and legislators from both sides to revive the hashtag #AbbottFailedTexas and started the #AbbottHatesDogs on Twitter.
In a statement, the Governor said that previous statutes protecting dogs from animal cruelty are already sufficient, and penalties, as proposed on the new bill, are excessive. The bill calls for a $500 fine for the first offense with class C misdemeanor and subsequent violations would be fined $2,000 with a possible 3-month to 180-day jail time with a class B misdemeanor charge.
The Governor stated that the bill would “compel every dog owner, on pain of criminal penalties, to monitor things like the tailoring of the dog’s collar, the time a dog spends in the bed of a truck, and the ratio of tether-to-dog length, as measured from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail”. He added that Texas was not a place for that kind of “micro-managing and over-criminalization”.
The Governor himself is an avid dog lover himself with two Golden Retrievers, named Pancake and Peaches.
Fight For The Legislation Continues
Democrat State Senator, Eddie Lucio Jr., who sponsored the bill, expressed his disappointment with the Governor, “I don’t agree with everything he does, but I respect him when it comes to quality of life and protecting life. I want to include dogs in that issue”.
An existing tethering law passed nearly 15 years ago requires law enforcement officers to give 24-hour notice to dog owners to correct the dog’s condition before summoning the owner or taking custody of the dog. Animal control experts testified on hearings that the 24-hour rule proved to be tragic for many dogs and extending the suffering of the animal is unnecessary when it is clearly evident from law officers that it is causing harm.
Shelby Bobosky, the Texas Humane Legislative Network’s (THLN) executive director, stated that the new bill would clarify the vague language that makes the statute completely unenforceable. She added that it would “provide cleanup of basic standards for restraining dogs and could have protected dogs left outside in a state that experiences extreme high and low temperatures”.
THLN representatives have been fighting for this legislation, with support from various sheriffs, law enforcement, and animal control officers, for nearly a decade.
Several cities in Texas have stepped up and took matters into their own hands. Dallas, Galveston, and Texas City have issued their own ordinances banning or limiting the use of heavy chains. In Houston, the restraint must be at least 10 feet or fives times the length of the dog, and it must not cause pain or discomfort to the dog.