Animal abusers will face up to 10 years in prison under new Texas law

One of the 89 cats seized from R.UG. Activity Center Animal Shelter on FM 970 in Florence on March 22, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Lauren Kravets)
One of the 89 cats seized from R.UG. Activity Center Animal Shelter on FM 970 in Florence on March 22, 2017 (KXAN Photo/Lauren Kravets)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning in September, Texans could face up to 10 years in jail if they torture, kill, poison, or cause a serious bodily injury to an animal. Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 762 by Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and Rep, Joe Moody, D-El Paso, over the weekend.

That action turns a Class A misdemeanor into a 3rd-degree felony. Right now, only repeat offenders can get two years in jail. But beginning in September, if convicted, a person can face 10 years in jail or 20 years for repeat offenses.

After a year in Houston prosecuting animal cruelty cases, Natalie Lynch saw many animal abusers go free, then go on to abuse people. Now, she volunteers with the Texas Humane Legislation Network to make Texas animals safer.

“Stopping those people and getting them into the jails and getting them the help that they need, at the beginning. Because now there are actual consequences now that we have a new law,” said Lynch.

Lynch, an animal lover herself is mom to an 110 pound Akita Ferdinand and an adopted cat named Batgirl. Lynch hopes getting the word out about the new law will stop abuse and save taxpayers money by keeping animals out of area shelters. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an animal person or not. This hits our bottom line,” explained Lynch.

Travis County has its own animal abuse docket. Prosecutor Erik Nielsen says stiffer punishment will get people to plead guilty and accept probation.

“Certainly the idea of spending two years in a state jail facility versus, I might spend 10 years in a prison is something any defense attorney would really have to talk to their client about,” said Nielsen, Travis County Assistant District Attorney.

But he says the law could make court convictions harder to come by.

“If they go to trial, it may persuade a jury in the opposite way and say we just don’t think killing this dog, or cat, or whatever the animal was, is worth 10 years in prison, eight years in prison,” said Nielsen.

“The days of negligible prison sentences for the most heinous and violent acts of cruelty against our companion animals are officially a part of Texas history,” said the Texas Humane Legislation Network Executive Director Laura Donahue in a  statement. “Moving forward, the punishments will fit the crime.”

Monday, Gov. Abbott signed the bill making bestiality a crime in Texas as well.

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