Animal Law

The Basics of Animal Law

I am going to talk to you about animal law as it pertains to our feral cat programs. I am not an attorney. I am a faculty member here at SMU, and I sometimes offer a class on Animal Rights & Welfare.

The last time I offered the class, Texas was in the process of writing and amending animal law. I had in my class that semester the daughter of a Texas senator, and the senator was gracious enough to fax us updates on the progress of the newly amended animal laws.

The most important thing to know about animal law is that animals are only protected as “property.” At this point, they still have no right-to-life of their own. And you probably know that your household pets are protected by law as your property, just as your car or home would be.

But after a series of horrific abuse cases against strays, animals that were no one’s property, in 2001 the law was written to include any animal that is in a person’s “custody,” and SB 1724 section 1.4 defines “custody” as “responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of an animal subject to the person’s care and control, regardless of ownership of the animal.” In court, judges have used the following questions to determine if the animal is legally in someone’s custody: Does the animal have a name? Do you feed this animal on a regular basis? Has the animal ever been taken to the vet? [Althea hating the fact that I give all animals the temporary name “Sweetie.”]

So our ferals involved in a TNR program are protected by state law.

What are our ferals protected from? (Note livestock and animals used for research have considerable exceptions, so just focus on our ferals for now. I don’t know anything about livestock, but we can talk about research animals in colleges/universities later if you want to.)

Misdemeanor Felony
Fails to provide food, care, or shelter for an animal in your custody Tortures an animal
Abandons an animal in the person's custody Causes one animal to fight with another
Injures an animal belonging to another  

Exceptions: hunting, fishing, legal trapping (commercial pelt business), wildlife control by state or federal authority, a person is facing direct physical harm (like a dog attack)

    Important note: Two previous misdemeanor convictions become a felony for future convictions.

Legal vs. Illegal Trapping

For feral cat trapping, Alley Cat Allies and the country's leading animal organizations emphasize never leaving traps unattended, checking traps every 15 minutes, labeling traps clearly. The internet is replete with trapping guidelines, so we don't need to review that here. Most of you are professional trappers. Because the cats in your managed colony are considered in your custody, non-TNR participants cannot trap your ferals. (See above.)

But what about trapping not our protected ferals but, say, indigenous wildlife such as oppossums?

Opossums, and other indigenous wildlife are protected by Texas Parks and Wildlife Code 71.001. They are considered property of the state (71.011), and trappers must have a permit to trap and transport fur-bearing indigenous wildlife (Sec. 43.061 subchapter E). Trappers must follow conditions of permit, such as humane treatment, for example not leaving traps unattended and vulnerable, and trappers must display license (71.011).

In our experience on campus, wildlife trappers, like Terminex, have admitted to leaving traps for >24 hours and do not display their license.

Although according to Lexus Nexus these cases are seldom adjudicated, the leading Animal Rights Attorney in the Dallas area is Robert Trimble (Texas Humane Legislation Network), and I'm sure that office can refer you to counsel in your area.


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