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Animal Abuse Laws in Texas

Laws And Penalties For Animal Abuse in Texas

Texas is home to millions of animal owners. Not only are many Texans proud to own livestock animals, many of them are also happy owners of pets. While most pet owners go to great lengths to ensure the health, safety and happiness of their animal friends, some people engage in behavior that can only be described as abusive.

When animal abuse occurs in Texas, law enforcement can get involved. A person who is convicted of animal abuse may be subject to very severe legal penalties. Read on to learn more about the laws regarding animal abuse in the state of Texas.

What Constitutes Animal Abuse?

There are many different behaviors that can be considered abusive towards non-livestock animals in Texas. Essentially, any type of severe or intentional mistreatment of an animal may potentially be investigated on charges of animal abuse.

Section 42.09 of the Texas Penal Code spells out what types of behavior are considered abusive to animals under the law. According to this section, some of the behaviors that may be considered illegal animal abuse include:

  • Torturing an animal
  • 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
  • Transporting or confining an animal in an unreasonable or cruel way
  • Causing an animal to engage in a fight with another animal
  • Seriously overworking an animal
  • Using a live animal as a lure in a dog race
  • Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing serious bodily harm to an animal
  • Abandoning an animal

Engaging in any of these behaviors may lead to a police investigation, arrest and prosecution on animal abuse charges. It should be noted that these definitions are intentionally broad because “serious bodily injury” can cover a wide range of injuries.

How Animal Abuse Is Investigated

In many cases, animal abuse investigations begin when someone files a formal complaint. These complaints may be directed towards local law enforcement offices, the local humane society or to the local chapter of the SPCA.

However the complaints are submitted, an investigation may begin right away. Law enforcement officers may visit the property of the person who is allegedly engaging in animal abuse. While at the property, law enforcement officers may present a warrant to tour the property and search for any signs of abuse.

Officers may take pictures of any animals on the property as well as any areas where animals are kept. The law enforcement officers may also bring trained animal handlers, veterinarians or animal experts for additional insight in their investigation.

If any sick, injured or mistreated animals are found while on the property, the circumstances may be recorded and the animals may be confiscated. The animals may be taken to a place where they can be given proper care and medical attention. The extent of their injuries as well as their mistreatment may be recorded for use in the prosecution of the owner.

Legal Penalties

A person who is convicted of an animal abuse offense may be subject to several different penalties. A single count of animal abuse is a Class A misdemeanor. In Texas, this offense is punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $4000
  • Supervised probation and community service

In addition to these penalties, a person who is convicted of animal abuse in Texas may have any animals under their direct care confiscated by law enforcement or a local humane society. They may also be banned from owning any animals in the future or for a certain length of time.

A person who has been convicted of two previous counts of animal abuse may have any future animal abuse charges automatically upgraded to a state jail felony charge. This charge is punishable by:

  • 180 day or up to two years in a Texas state jail facility
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Defenses to Prosecution

Section 42.09 of the Texas Penal Code includes several provisions that can be used as a defense to prosecution if charges of animal abuse are filed. These provisions include:

  • An animal killed in an act of self-defense
  • An animal killed or injured after it was discovered to be threatening other animals or livestock
  • An animal killed or injured as the result of a legal hunting incident

For example, Dave is a farmer and keeps chickens on his property for the purpose of raising eggs. He discovers that several coyotes have been raiding his chicken coop and killing his chickens. He sets out poison traps to stop the coyotes. One of the coyotes does not die from the poison so Dave shoots it to end its suffering.

His neighbor sees this occur and calls the local police department to report suspected animal cruelty. Dave may have a defense to prosecution because he did not recklessly, intentionally or knowingly engage in animal cruelty. He engaged in his actions in the course of protecting his livestock from being harmed or killed.


Do you know someone that has been charged with animal cruelty? Criminal defense attorney Matthew Sharp may be able to help. Contact his office today at 713-868-6100.

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