Many of the attorneys and staff at J. Cruz & Associates are dog lovers. We love dogs so much that our firm mascot is Rocco, a very cute labradoodle. Rocco’s owner is the firm’s managing partner, Juan Cruz. Rocco has his own Instagram account and enjoys playing with his toys and accompanying his owner to work wearing the coolest ties. Rocco is fortunate enough to spend his day in an air-conditioned office with plenty of access to food, water, and attention. Unfortunately, not all dogs receive such loving care. Some dogs are chained with weights and allowed to suffer outside in extreme weather with little access to shade and water. The unrelenting Texas summer heat is tough on humans, but it can be even tougher on dogs. If you are a dog lover, like most of us at JCA, you will be pleased to know that effective January 18, 2022, Texas enacted stricter laws to protect dogs who spend long periods of time outside.
Following one of the most contentious legislative sessions in recent memory, Governor Abbott signed the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act on October 25, 2021. The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act requires owners to provide additional care to their outdoor dogs than a previous law Texas had on the books. The new law provides for a more humane standard of care for dogs as well as an enforcement mechanism against those dog owners violating the law. The Texas Humane Legislation Network (THLN) and SPCA of Texas criticized the former Unlawful Restraint of Dog law, citing the old law did little to protect a dog from a neglectful owner. The new law requires owners who tether their dogs to ensure their dogs have access to drinkable water and shade.
The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act requires an owner to provide adequate shelter to a dog left outside and unattended by use of a restraint. The new law defines adequate shelter as a sturdy structure to protect a dog from extremely low or high temperatures, rain, snow, sleet, hail, and standing water. The structure must allow the dog to stand, sit, turn around, and lie down in a normal position. Texas’ previous Unlawful Dog Restraint law did not define “shelter” and only extended to “extreme living conditions” such as freezing temperatures and heat advisory warnings without requiring an owner to provide adequate shelter for their dog to escape rain, hail, or standing water.
The new law also requires that restrained dogs have access to “potable” or drinkable water. The previous law did not require an owner to provide a restrained dog with drinkable water. Dogs, like people, require water to ensure their bodies are working properly. Without water, dogs begin to dehydrate, which can lead to kidney failure, unconsciousness, and even death in extreme cases. The new law also prohibits owners from using chains or weights to restrain their dogs. Owners restraining their dog must use safety restraints, and any collar used must be made of material that is specifically designed to be placed around a dog’s neck. Owners are prohibited from using a restraint that causes pain or injury to a dog. There are also requirements regarding the length of the restraint. The length of the restraint must be at least 10 feet or five times the length of the dog. In other words, a dog must be given enough freedom to move around while tethered.
The new law recognizes that some dog owners often perform activities with their dogs in close proximity, like camping, herding, or cultivating agricultural products. The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act permits owners to restrain their dogs while performing these activities. Another notable exception allows owners to leave their dogs restrained in an open-air truck bed for the time reasonably necessary for the owner to complete a temporary task.
Violators of the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500, but there are escalating penalties for repeat offenders. These escalating penalties include jail time for up to 180 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Under the previous law, law enforcement had to provide an owner with 24-hour notice before taking action against an owner.
The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act was enacted following a six-year mission by THLN. If you know someone who is unable to provide the basic dog requirements required under the new law, THLN maintains a list of nonprofit organizations that will assist under-resourced dog owners by providing dog houses and pet supplies. For more information about THLN and resources available to under-resourced dog owners, go to https://www.thln.org/
This article was written by firm associate attorney Lisa Paul. Lisa and her husband are the loving owners of 4 dogs and 5 cats. With the exception of their pug, Otis, all of their animals are rescues.
For more information about Rocco, the JCA mascot, visit the J. Cruz & Associates website or look for Rocco on Instagram @roccocutedog.