New Texas law criminalizes improper dog tethering

AUSTIN — A new law, which took effect January 18, makes the unlawful restraint of a dog a criminal offense in Texas. 

The law, which passed in October during the Legislature’s third session, outlines more specific guidelines for tethering animals in order to make existing statutes more enforceable. The “Safe Outdoor Dogs Act” makes the tethering of dogs with chains or weighted restraints a class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500, and a class B misdemeanor for repeat offenders, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or up to 180 days in jail.

A 2015 investigation by the ​​Texas Humane Legislation Network found the current laws were being essentially unenforced, with a thousand cities reporting no tickets in a two-year time period. 

Marfa Animal Control Officer George Gonzalez expressed support for the law and said he plans to enforce it. “It’s been coming for a long time, this new law,” he said. “I’m glad it did come into effect.” Many of the animal welfare calls he currently receives are from out of town visitors, but he occasionally hears from concerned local citizens as well. 

The bill states owners must provide access to potable water and adequate shelter from inclement weather, including “rain, hail, sleet, snow, high winds, extreme low temperatures or extreme high temperatures.” The law bans chains or weighted restraints and states leashes must be five times the length of the dog or 10 feet to allow for adequate mobility. It also specifies collars must fit well and be made of “material specifically designed to be placed around the neck of a dog,” with harnesses consisting of similar material. 

Several exceptions to the new law are outlined in the bill, including instances in which the dog is being restrained in a public recreational or camping area, instances in which the owner and dog are engaged in activities related to agricultural production or herding livestock, and times when the owner has to temporarily restrain the dog in order to do something that requires the dog being restrained. 

One local dog rescuer said the passage of the law is “long overdue,” but has concerns about its enforcement and stressed the need to address underlying causes of dog tethering, which she argued could be the result of a lack of adequate resources. 

“My dream would be for those who have their dogs on a tether to have the support and resources to want to give their dog a better life,” said Marilyn MgHee, founder of Jethro Homeward Bound Pets. MgHee works to rescue dogs in her hometown of Fort Davis and the neighboring Alpine, and to pull dogs from a Fort Stockton high-kill-rate shelter. 

“Maybe they need help fixing a fence,” she continued. “What is the underlying cause for having the dog on a tether?”

For his part, Gonzalez said that he plans to begin by issuing warnings to those found in violation of the law. If the situation is not quickly corrected, he said, then individuals will receive a fine.