Originally published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By Alexandra Johnston
We all know someone who has been bitten by a dog. Such incidents affect hundreds, if not thousands of Texans each year, but it is a largely untold story in our communities that dogs restrained outside by their owners are actually more dangerous than roaming packs of dogs.
How we restrain and shelter dogs outside can actually cause them to become more aggressive and more likely to lash out at an unsuspecting person. A dog unlawfully and inhumanely kept on a chain for hours, days or even years without adequate access to shade or shelter from extreme Texas weather is unable to retreat from perceived or real threats. They can develop severe behavior problems and act out aggressively toward other animals, humans and especially children when approached.
Although state policymakers have established basic standards for dogs outside, it is clear that the law is not working as intended to protect Texas communities.
As a former member of law enforcement who dealt specifically with animal cases, I often saw dogs in distress, restrained by unbelievably heavy chains that sometimes outweighed the animal. But we could not intervene because current law mandates a warning period to allow the owner to fix the situation without penalty. If we came back the next day and saw the same situation, we had to issue another warning.
To my knowledge, no one in Texas has ever been cited for the unlawful and inhumane restraint of a dog outside because of this ridiculous warning clause, which is unlike anything else in Texas law. If these animals are going to live among us, we must clarify this law to keep our loved ones, neighborhoods, and animals safe.
In recent years, our state has seen many attacks by dogs restrained in this manner, with a consistent record of severe injury or even death. In 2018, a 4-year-old boy was playing in his backyard in Bexar County and was mauled by his family’s chained dog. Although a family member in the home quickly saw the attack happening, the boy had already died.
This year in Victoria, a 7-year-old boy was playing in his backyard and approached a neighbor’s chained dog. The dog attacked and bit the boy’s face, causing injuries that were not life-threatening but required surgery.
This is happening in every corner of Texas, but we can prevent it if law enforcement is able to intervene when appropriate. This is a community safety issue.
Law enforcement’s duty is to uphold public safety. Our role is built on the concept of de-escalating situations to best protect residents and their property. However, the current law designed to address the safe keeping of dogs among us is unnecessarily keeping us from performing that duty.
Instead of empowering law enforcement to remove animals from dangerous situations or cite owners for poor standards of care, officers must wait until after an attack or tragedy has occurred to take action. Waiting until tragedy, death, or destruction has occurred is wholly unacceptable.
The remedy is simple. First, legislators must clearly define lawful and humane restraint and basic shelter standards outside so owners can easily comply. Second, and most important, any change must remove the never-ending cycle of warnings to allow law enforcement to address dangerous situations when necessary to prevent human tragedy.
Understandably, some Texans worry that such legislation could affect how they care for their dogs. However, this legislation is not meant to stop dogs from being kept outside at all or curb the personal liberties of Texas animal owners. It will simply ensure that dogs being kept outside are treated in a manner that does not create a danger to the unsuspecting public around them.
We are not asking legislators to create a new law. We simply ask that they fix one they’ve already acknowledged as necessary. Texas dogs deserve a fair standard of care, and most importantly, Texas families deserve to be safe in their communities.