McALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — After a man was arrested in McAllen for leaving his dog tied up overnight, local authorities are urging the public to provide shelter for their pets.
Further, the case illustrates how police can use a new Texas law, which took effect in January.
On Nov. 22, a McAllen animal warden found a German shepherd tied to a tree in the front yard of a home, an offense report obtained by ValleyCentral stated.
The dog was “covered in mud” underneath a tree as the temperature was 49 degrees Fahrenheit with a light drizzle, according to the report. There was also no food or water available for the dog.
The animal warden made contact with the dog’s owner, who said he was exhausted from working a 12-hour shift the night before and did not untie the dog overnight. The report stated the weather the night before featured heavy rain and strong winds. The dog’s owner was placed under arrest on a charge of animal cruelty.
The case illustrates a scenario that many might recognize across the Rio Grande Valley and Texas: Pets are left tied or chained outside with little to no protection from the elements.
The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act
The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act went into effect statewide Jan. 18 and requires dogs have adequate shelter from inclement weather, access to drinkable water and that their owners use safe forms of restraints. The law also removed a 24-hour waiting period that prevented officers from taking immediate action for dogs in distress.
In Brownsville, Investigator Martin Sandoval, spokesperson for the Brownsville Police Department, told ValleyCentral about the legality of restraining dogs.
“You cannot leave them out there for an extended period of time,” Sandoval told ValleyCentral. “If it’s cold you have to shelter them from the elements, if it’s hot, the same way. These are new laws that came into play about a year ago.”
Sandoval said when the law first went into effect, the Brownsville Police Department made an effort to teach the public about the new changes. Despite that, he says there are some dog owners who continue to disregard the new regulations.
“Some choose not to obey the law, and others claim that they do not know the law,” Sandoval said. “But, not knowing the law is no excuse for breaking it.”
The investigator emphasized that the dog does not need to be brought inside a home necessarily, but must have adequate shelter, such as a proper dog house that provides shelter from the elements.
The winter holidays also bring in a wave of new dog owners, who may underestimate the commitment of owning a dog, Sandoval said.
“A lot of people give dogs as gifts to their kids,” Sandoval said. “Dogs are not gifts, dogs are actually a big commitment for people. These creatures depend on you to feed them, to bathe them, to take care of them.”
Sandoval, who is a dog-owner himself, urges the public to check their local shelter when looking for a pet.
“Those dogs are a little bit older, but they are very obedient, very loyal dogs,” Sandoval said.
As for the dog owner who was arrested in McAllen, his bond was set at $2,000. He was released from the Hidalgo County Jail the day after his arrest, records indicate.
ValleyCentral spoke with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who authored the original bill.
“A chained dog with no shade, no water, that can barely move … is living in a personal hell,” Lucio said. “This bill is about creating a minimum standard for dogs.”
The road for the bill becoming a law was not easy, Lucio said, as it was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June 2021.
“The first time around the governor vetoed the bill I had passed,” Lucio said. “There was, quite frankly, an outrage by many members of the community because they wanted to see some changes made or enacted to make sure dogs had shelter and were safe from disease and were cared for.”
The senator said there were minor alterations made to the bill, which Abbott then signed into law Oct. 25, 2021. Lucio added that the law keeps the penalty as a Class B misdemeanor, which could lead to a $2,000 fine or up to 180 days in jail.
In a call to action, Lucio asked that the public report signs of animal abuse in order to protect the animals in the community.
“It’s important for us to be compassionate to man’s best friend,” Lucio said. “We’ve had dogs since we were little kids. I’m going to be 77 years old next January, and I still remember all our dogs and the tears we shed when they died.”