Texas Animal Cruelty Laws

Believe it or not, but any kind of animal cruelty was not a felony in Texas until 2001. It took Loco, a Dallas puppy, to be temporarily stolen and his eyes gouged out, to make some animal cruelty actions a felony.

Even though our pets are seen as family, animal protection laws in the United States and Texas are still catching up with other laws regarding the protection of children and other human rights. Texas civil law still regards dogs as property. But property of very little monetary value even though they are capable of love, personality, and loyalty.

It is fortunate that the criminal law sees the importance of preventing people from cruelly treating animals, by creating a more serious punishment than prior to 2001.

What is the Animal Welfare Act, 1966?

We cannot talk about Texas Cruelty Laws without first talking about earlier laws. In the United States federal law, to finally make a change, it took Coles Phinizy to write an article in Sports Illustrated in 1965. Pepper, a Pennsylvania dalmatian, was stolen from his yard and bought by a Bronx hospital. Pepper died during an experimental surgical procedure.

In 1965 New York US Representative Resnick introduced a bill requiring dog and cat dealers and the laboratories purchasing them to have a license. The bill also required USDA inspection.

A 1966 Life Magazine article, “Concentration Camp for Dogs,” prompted an investigation into a Maryland dog dealer’s deplorable living conditions for his dogs. This sparked a public the push for animal housing and care standards.

What is Cruelty To Nonlivestock Animals?

A nonlivestock animal is a domesticated living creature. Stray or feral dogs and cats are nonlivestock animals. Also included are any wild animals that were previously captured. This definition does not include a wild animal or obviously a livestock animal.

The mental state required to be guilty of this statute is intentional, knowing or reckless. Criminal negligence is not a mental state included in this statute.

Intentionally means a conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result. Knowing for a person takes place when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause a result. Reckless conduct is a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise.

Animal Cruelty

It is an offense to cause an animal unjustified pain, suffering or cruelly kill or causes serious bodily injury to a nonlivestock animal. Also, to add confusion, a person cannot kill, poison, or cause serious bodily injury to an animal without the owner’s consent.

A person cannot unreasonably fail to provide necessary food, water, care, or shelter to an animal in a person’s custody. Nor can a person unreasonably abandon an animal in the person’s custody. It is also illegal to transport or confine an animal in a cruel manner.

It is an offense to cause bodily injury to an animal or cause an animal to fight another animal if either animal is not a dog. A person can’t use a live animal as a lure in a dog race or training, nor can a person overwork an animal.

The punishment is a Class A misdemeanor for the following offenses:

  • Lack of food, water, care or shelter.
  • Abandon, transport, or confine cruelly.
  • Seriously overwork animal.

The punishment is a State Jail felony for the following:

  • Cause an animal to fight another if either is not a dog.
  • Use of a live animal as a lure in dog race training or dog coursing on a racetrack.

The punishment is a 3rd Degree felony for the following:

  • Torture, cruelly kill, or cause serious bodily injury to an animal.
  • Kill, poison or cause serious bodily injury to an animal without the owner’s consent.

Abandoning an Animal

In Texas, and many other places, people abandon animals on dark roadways or in the country. It is a Class A misdemeanor with punishment up to a year in jail and/or $4,000 fine. This common occurrence seems to be acceptable to many. But dogs can starve or get hit on the roadway and die a miserable death.

Defenses to Cruelty To Nonlivestock Animals

It is a defense if a person has a reasonable fear of bodily injury to themselves or another by a dangerous wild animal. Or a person has a defense for bonafide experimentation for scientific research.

It is a defense to cruelty, while in the scope of employment, for a public servant, a person in electricity operations, or natural gas delivery.

The statute also mentions a defense under accepted legal wildlife practices solely for the purpose of fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife management, or depredation.

Is it Illegal to Shoot a Dog in Texas?

It is only a defense to animal cruelty for a person who kills a dog during it injuring or killing livestock on the person’s land or while damaging crops and only at the time of either discovery.

What is Cruelty to Livestock Animals?

A livestock animal are cattle, sheep, swine, goats, ratites, poultry commonly raised for human consumption, horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, hinnies, native or nonnative hoofstock, and native or non native foul raised under agricultural practices.

The mental state required is easier on the offender than nonlivestock animals. Livestock animal cruelty only requires a mental state of intentionally or knowingly. Reckless mental state is not included here as it is in cruelty to nonlivestock animals.

Livestock Cruelty

It is illegal to cause unjustifiable pain or suffering to a livestock animal. A person in custody of a livestock animal must not fail unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, or care.

A person must not unreasonably abandon a livestock animal in the person’s custody. Nor transport or confine a livestock animal cruel or unusually.

The statute prevents a person from administering poison, without legal authority or permission, to a livestock animal other than cattle, horses, sheep, swine, or goats belonging to another. Also, a person shall not cause a livestock animal to fight with another livestock animal or nonlivestock animal.

It is also illegal to use a livestock animal as a lure in dog race training or dog coursing on a racetrack. A person can’t trip a horse or seriously overwork a livestock animal.

The punishment is a Class A misdemeanor for the following:

  • Failure to provide food, water or care for livestock in person’s custody.
  • Unreasonably abandon livestock animal.
  • Transport or confine livestock in cruel and unusual manner.
  • Overwork a livestock animal.

The punishment is a State Jail felony for the following:

  • Torture a livestock animal.
  • Poisoning another’s livestock animal other than cattle, horses, sheep, swine, or goats without legal authority or owner’s permission.
  • Fighting livestock animal with another livestock animal or nonlivestock animal.
  • Using live livestock animal as a lure in dog race training or dog coursing on a racetrack.
  • Tripping a horse.

Defenses to Livestock Cruelty

A person can trip a horse to identify the owner or provide vet care to the horse. It is also a defense if the person is engaging in bonafide experimentation research.

Generally accepted and solely for the purpose of legal fishing, hunting, or trapping wildlife management or depredation is a defense.

Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876

Cruelty to animals was recognized as a problem in Great Britain far earlier than in the United States. The parliament passed a bill also known as the Vivisection Act. It is the world’s first known legislation that regulated the treatment and use of live animals during scientific research.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a proponent of animal welfare. He was disturbed by an animal’s unnecessary suffering. He wrote to the Oxford Zoologist in 1871:

“You ask about my opinion on vivisection. I quite agree that it is justifiable for real investigations on physiology; but not for mere damnable and detestable curiosity. It is a subject which makes me sick with horror, so I will not say another word about it, else I shall not sleep to-night.

In The Descent of Man, Darwin tells of a touching story about a dog on a vivisectionist operating table, “In the agony of death a dog has been known to caress his master, and every one has heard of the dog suffering under vivisection, who licked the hand of the operator; this man, unless the operation was fully justified by an increase of our knowledge, or unless he had a heart of stone, must have felt some remorse to the last hour of his life (p. 115).”


It is interesting to see how animal law has evolved, through the years, compared to other movements and areas of law. It seems that animal welfare laws have never gotten the priority in relation to other societal needs and concerns. Especially compared to humans.

The fact that it took until 2001 to make gouging out a puppies eyes a felony in Texas lets a person know where the Texas legislature has stood on animal protection. This may be either a reflection of our voter’s priorities or lack of interest in the topic.

Regardless of the speed, animal protection laws are moving toward stricter and more serious punishment for people causing needless animal suffering.

If you need help or advice for your legal issue, do not hesitate to contact http://erictorberson.com.

Author: Eric Torberson

Eric Torberson is a licensed attorney in Texas as well as licensed in the federal courts of the southern and western districts of Texas.