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By Ali Juell
The Texas Tribune
Texas lawmakers are making it harder for those convicted of animal cruelty to own any animals – at least for the next five years after their initial offense.
The animal possession ban or House Bill 598, authored by state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, applies to people convicted of being involved in dogfighting operations, but also those who hurt an assistance animal or are found to be cruel to a non-livestock animal under Texas penal code or similar penal codes in other states and at the federal level.
Offenders are still able to live in the same household as animals. Shaheen said there is no exemption for offenders to own assistance animals during that five-year period nor would he support it.
“We need to make sure that our animals are taken care of,” Shaheen said. “We’re not going to tolerate any type of animal abuse.”
If an offender is found to have an animal during those five years, they could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, or as much as a $500 fine. If the offender is repeatedly in possession of an animal, the charge is raised to a Class B misdemeanor, increasing the possible fine to $2,000 and adding the possibility of up to 180 days in jail.
Shaheen failed to pass a similar animal cruelty prevention bill during the 2021 legislative session, but he said he reintroduced the bill because of calls from his constituents, who were largely surprised a possession ban didn’t already exist.
The law went into effect Friday, one of 774 bills passed by the Texas Legislature this session.
Even though animal cruelty is a very rare problem, Shaheen said it’s important to identify offenders to prevent future violence.
In many cases of animal cruelty, perpetrators are likely to recommit an offense, sometimes immediately after their last criminal case’s conclusion, said Shelby Bobosky, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, who is also an adjunct professor of animal law and wildlife law at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
“Possession bans are one of the most effective ways to ensure that a person convicted of animal cruelty does not reoffend,” Bobosky said.
Wayne Pacelle, founder and president of Washington D.C.-based Animal Wellness Action, said acts of cruelty such as animal abuse are an indicator of “a broader loss of empathy for others” and creates a need for post-conviction attention from law enforcement.
“Possessing a pet or other animal in the household or on their property is a privilege and not a right,” Pacelle said in an email.
Bobosky said violence against animals can also be a warning sign of intent to harm people. She notes that in the case of the Uvalde school shooter, he had posted himself committing animal abuse to social media. By increasing convictions of animal cruelty, she said there’s hope that other instances of violence can be prevented.
“Along with psychological evaluation and some sort of treatment, these sentencing measures can ensure that the root of these issues is addressed,” Bobosky said. “Any way to cause that interruption is incredibly important from our standpoint.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/08/texas-animal-cruelty-law-five-year-ban/.