Texas is home to many animal owners. Whether residents own household pets, like cats and dogs, or livestock, most animal owners are responsible and ensure that their “fur babies” are provided with proper care. However, there are times when cases arise involving individuals who abuse or neglect their animal or someone else’s. If this occurs, there may be grounds for a police investigation and serious criminal charges. So, what conduct falls under animal cruelty laws in Texas and what are the potential criminal consequences?
What Constitutes Animal Cruelty?
Animal cruelty laws in Texas apply to domesticated animals, which are further divided into two categories:
- Livestock animals
- Non-livestock animals
Cruelty to non-livestock animals accounts for a majority of animal cruelty cases and, therefore, a proper understanding of Section 42.092 of the Texas Penal Code, governing animal cruelty to non-livestock animals, is essential.
Non-livestock animals are generally what most people would consider “household pets.” Section 42.092 defines a non-livestock animal as a domesticated living creature, including any stray or feral cat or dog, and a wild living creature previously captured. This would include dogs, cats, rodents and reptiles. Generally speaking though, animal cruelty laws do not apply to wild animals that are not captured—such as deer, wild hogs, mountain lions, etc.
Section 42.092 encompasses an array of behavior that is considered animal cruelty to non-livestock animals. To be charged with animal cruelty under this section, a person must have performed these “cruel acts” intentionally, recklessly or knowingly. The types of cruel behavior the statute covers include:
- Torturing an animal (causing unjustifiable pain or suffering);
- Killing an animal in a way that is considered cruel or leads to serious bodily injury of the animal;
- Administering poison to an animal;
- Failing to provide a reasonable amount of food, water, care and shelter to an animal;
- Abandoning an animal;
- Transporting or confining an animal in an unreasonable or cruel way;
- Causing an animal to engage in a fight with another animal (if the animal is not a dog—dog fighting has its own Section in the penal code);
- Without the owner’s consent, causing bodily injury to an animal;
- Using a live animal as a lure in a dog race; or,
- Seriously overworking an animal.
Some of these definitions are broad and can potentially cover a wide range of abuse.
Misdemeanor Animal Abuse
A person who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly fails to provide a reasonable amount of food, water, care and shelter; abandons an animal; transports or confines an animal in a cruel manner; causes bodily injury to an animal; or seriously overworks an animal will be punished with a Class A misdemeanor.
An individual convicted of a Class A misdemeanor may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Additionally, a person who has been previously convicted two times for animal cruelty will have their punishment enhanced to a state jail felony. (see below for definition)
Felony Animal Abuse
A person who intentionally, knowingly or recklessly tortures; kills; administers poison to; causes one animal to fight with another; or, uses a live animal as a lure will be punished with a State Jail Felony.
An individual convicted of a State Jail Felony may be sentenced to 180 days and up to two years in a state jail facility and a fine up to $10,000. Additionally, a person who has been previously convicted two times for animal cruelty will have their punishment enhanced to a felony of the 3rd degree. An individual convicted of a felony of the 3rd degree may be sentenced to 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a fine up to $10,000.
Section 49.092 of the Texas Penal Code provides several defenses to prosecution of animal cruelty of non-livestock animals. For example, it is a defense if:
- The animal is killed in self-defense;
- The animal is killed or injured upon discovering the animal injuring or killing the person’s livestock or damaging the person’s crops;
- The conduct occurs for legal hunting or agriculture practices; or
- The conduct occurs for true scientific research.
While there are many potential defenses, a conviction for animal cruelty can be extremely serious and it may jeopardize a person’s future animal ownership rights. Thus, it is essential to seek help if you have or may be charged with animal cruelty. Contact our team of criminal defense attorneys for a free consultation about your animal cruelty allegation.