Animal cruelty punishments in Texas could get harsher if law passes

James, a Pyrenees mix, was shot in the neck (KXAN Photo/Leslie Rangel)
James, a Pyrenees mix, was shot in the neck (KXAN Photo/Leslie Rangel)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Texas, if you shoot a dog in the neck today, you could get away with no jail time. Now some lawmakers are hoping to change that.

An amendment to the animal cruelty code though Senate Bill 762 would increase the penalty to up to 10 years in jail if a person violently hurts an animal.

It’s a law that James, a 1-year-old Pyrenees mix, is relying on to pass this legislative session.

“James was shot in the shaved area here and as we mentioned, the bullet fragmented, it was a hollow bullet,” Mary Heerwald, who works at Austin Pets Alive!, a no-kill shelter, says.

James was found in Bastrop County, shot in the neck, and in so much pain he couldn’t stand up.

“We don’t know who did it and we don’t know what the cause was,” Heerwald says. “We just know that he was found with a severe gunshot wound that would have left him dead had he not been found and saved.”

Experts in animal cruelty say the crime is common because the punishment is light.

“The District Attorney’s Office’s might spend nine months to a year prosecuting these really tough cases, all for someone to get 180 days of time served or to walk without ever serving a day in jail,” Laura Donahue with the Texas Humane Legislation Network says.

The Network has been working with State Sen. José Menéndez, from San Antonio to write Senate Bill 762 which would amend the Animal Cruelty Code.

“What we’re doing is taking the top two most egregious acts of cruelty against animals, which is willfully torturing and or killing a companion animal, and we are increasing the penalties to 2 to 10 years,” Donahue says. “In order to truly get more of these cases investigated and to get prosecutors taking these cases, we’ve got to up the penalties so that they are right sized and comparable to the act of violence that’s occurred.”

There’s no telling if the person responsible for shooting James will be found, but advocates think if the penalties are high, it will deter the crime.

“These are the voiceless animals, these are the homeless animals that often don’t ask for anything but love and attention,” Heerwald says. “We would love to live in a world where we didn’t see these cases, we would love to live in a world where every animal had a happy, loving forever home.”

The bill has passed the Senate, it is now in the House. The bill must pass the second reading in the House by next Tuesday or they have to wait for two years to try to pass the law again.

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