Background: In late 2022, confusion erupted over whether Trap-Neuter-Return (T-N-R) of unowned community cats should be considered “abandonment” under the Texas animal cruelty law (Texas Penal Code §42.092 - Cruelty to Non-livestock Animals). T-N-R is widely regarded as a humane method of stabilizing the feral cat population by humanely trapping them, transporting them to veterinary clinics for sterilization and vaccination, then tipping their ear as a sign they have been treated. T-N-R programs save many thousands of Texas cats from euthanasia annually, and the prospect of prosecuting T-N-R providers for abandonment threatened to end successful programs across the state.
HB 3660 updates Section 42.092(a) of the Texas Penal Code by defining a "Trap-Neuter-Return Program" as a means of nonlethal population control and adding defense to prosecution for returning T-N-R cats to their outdoor homes. As a result, the law now clearly distinguishes between abandoning an owned companion animal versus releasing a T-N-R cat. Under the penal code, the unreasonable abandonment of an owned companion animal is punishable by a fine of up to $4,000, jail time of up to a year, or both.
This much-needed legislation updates the penal code without weakening the penalty for actual abandonment and protects T-N-R providers from undue prosecution. HB 3660 was authored by Representative Cody Vasut and Senator Judith Zaffirini and goes into effect on September 1, 2023.