When people treat steps taken to protect animal welfare as some type of infringement on their rights as dog owners, it’s the dogs who stand the most to lose. The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act went into effect on January 18, 2022, in what was seen as a step towards better living conditions for Texas dogs. Whether this will lead to better conditions for dogs overall remains to be seen, but for advocates, the law is a clear victory.
Some critics of this new law, while not opposed to protection for outside dogs, feel that such actions are meaningless without better enforcement of existing laws. Many dog owners whose dogs are breeds that enjoy being outside a lot during the cold weather, but have access to shelter, wrongfully interpreted this law as targeting their pets. However, advocates feel that this is an important distinction that people who love dogs need to make for its impact to be felt.
For example, too many dog lovers in and outside Texas were horrified to hear of the dog that froze to death in Grapeland during the February 2021 winter storm. Animal advocates in Texas have long demanded better protection to prevent these types of things from continually happening. State laws are the avenue of choice in the absence of local protections.
Many local city and county ordinances, when present, are inadequate to provide protection for one simple reason. Texas counties often cover large geographic areas, with relatively few officers to investigate complaints and handle citations. Even in urban settings, getting involvement from Animal Control can be a drawn-out process.
For example, one case in the Permian Basin that involved dogs chained without access to shelter involved multiple pleas to the local police department over the course of several months. Although the advocate finally succeeded in getting them removed from the situation, she had to work tirelessly to do so. Had this law been in effect at that time, the police may have been more willing to step up sooner.
Texas Humane Legislation Network, along with affiliates in 12 metro areas in Texas, immediately took action to make proper restraints and shelter available for outside dogs. Some of the organizations that stopped up to the plate included Fix West Texas, SPCA of Texas, and South Texas Tales. These organizations all have strong and growing local support networks to help them carry out this important work.
Humane legislation in Texas has had bipartisan support. For example, the sponsors of the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act were Eddie Lucio, a Democrat, and Jared Patterson, a Republican. Where a bill can have sponsors from both sides of the aisle and pass, many see this as a sign that there is hope to bring about better humane protections in Texas.
Animal advocates hope that a show of support from both parties will result in seeing animal welfare as a Texas issue, not specifically a Democrat or Republican issue. If humane legislation can be seen as such, there is less likely to be a lot of political gridlock. Overall, the dogs and other animals stand to benefit from better protection.