OUR LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
For forty-five years, the Texas Humane Legislation Network has advanced mainstream legislation preventing animal cruelty. We do this by continually researching issues and engaging with constituents, stakeholders, and elected officials. Our legislative priorities reflect common-sense solutions to Texas’ most pressing animal welfare issues.
We are excited to announce our legislative priorities as we prepare for the 88th Texas Legislative Session starting January 2023.
Fix the Texas Licensed Breeders Law
THE ISSUE: Texas law regulating large-scale cat and dog breeders (passed in 2011) is too narrow to effectively regulate the industry. The law should require all “large-scale” commercial facilities to be licensed and inspected. While the current law has successfully prevented animal cruelty at licensed facilities, exemptions in the law allow numerous large-scale breeders to go sight unseen. These unlicensed commercial facilities drive the bulk of consumer complaints and violations.
SOLUTION: The Legislature needs to amend the Texas Licensed Breeders law. Currently, only breeders with eleven or more breeding females who acknowledge selling twenty puppies or kittens in a calendar year must be licensed. First, all breeders with five or more breeding females should be licensed. Second, the proof of sales requirement should be eliminated.
The dog breeding industry includes hobby breeders who breed dogs for show or sport, and large-scale breeders who rely on puppy sales as their main source of income. Keeping four or fewer breeding adults is the commonly accepted dividing line between “hobby” breeders and “large-scale” operations. It defies common sense to define a facility breeding five females twice a year, producing on average 50-60 puppies a year, as a “hobby.” Further, according to state inspectors, proving the sale of at least twenty animals in a calendar year is nearly impossible. Pet sales are often cash transactions, and inspectors consistently encounter breeders who side-step record-keeping requirements.
Redefining who is a large-scale breeder by adjusting the number of breeding females from eleven to five and removing the sales requirement will:
- Prevent the cruelty that is currently happening at unlicensed, large-scale facilities.
- Allow the law to better monitor the industry it was designed to regulate.
- Bring Texas law into line with standards commonly used in the industry, other states, and the USDA.
Halting the Puppy Mill to Pet Store Pipeline
THE ISSUE: Current state law does not protect consumers from unethical pet stores selling commercially bred puppies and kittens with undisclosed health defects. Sick or defective pets burden the buyer with veterinary bills, and in some cases, the pets are so sick they die or must be euthanized. In addition to selling defective animals, the industry engages in predatory lending and unethical business practices to silence dissatisfied customers.
Further, these animals pose a public health risk. Puppies sold in pet stores are almost exclusively sourced from large-scale, disease-infested facilities in the Midwest. Texans buying puppies from these sources unwittingly expose themselves to illnesses such as giardia and antibiotic-resistant campylobacter, a deadly bacterial infection.
Against this backdrop, Texas ranks No. 1 in the country for euthanizing homeless pets. Over 61,000 homeless pets were euthanized in Texas in 2021. While taxpayer-supported municipal shelters and donation-supported nonprofits struggle heroically to vaccinate, sterilize, and rehome as many pets as possible, out-of-state puppy millers and retailers profit from the shipment of thousands of unvaccinated, unaltered animals to Texas.
SOLUTION: Pass a statewide humane pet store law. A humane pet store law would require Texas retail pet stores to source the cats and dogs they sell from shelters and rescue groups, protecting both animals and consumers. This policy, previously filed as House Bill 1818, had tremendous success before it died in the final hours of the 87th Texas Legislative Session.
Several Texas cities have already switched to this model: Austin, Bryan, College Station, Dallas, El Paso, Euless, Fort Worth, Houston, New Braunfe
ls, Pasadena, San Antonio, Sherman, The Colony, and Waco. While those ordinances protect millions of folks in more prominent locales, the vast majority of Texans do not live in those jurisdictions. Texas needs a statewide humane pet store law.
THLN prioritizes halting the puppy mill pipeline at both the local and state levels.
Federal Legislative Priorities
Pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act (H.R. 263)
THE ISSUE: The private possession, breeding, and trafficking of big cats like tigers endangers the public and first responders. While some Texas counties and cities prohibit the keeping of big cats, Texas does not have a statewide law banning private ownership.
Local law enforcement is not trained or equipped to deal with dangerous, wild predators, and they risk their lives every time they encounter privately owned big cats. Between February and May 2021, officers in San Antonio and Houston apprehended two tigers, a 13-week-old tiger cub and a bobcat. In April 2022, authorities confiscated a tiger cub in Laredo, where cross-border wildlife trafficking is common. And in August 2022, authorities seized a juvenile tiger from a Dallas home just one block from an elementary school.
Cub petting operations providing photo ops with baby tigers rely on the constant breeding – and inbreeding – of captive big cats. The public does not see that once the cubs outgrow their usefulness, they are often sold to individuals as pets, destroyed, or dismembered for parts.
Texas plays an outsized role in this crisis: of the approximately 10,000-20,000 privately owned big cats in the U.S., an estimated 3,000-5,000 are in Texas. Those numbers are best estimates because no one knows for sure how many big cats are in the Lone Star State.
SOLUTION: Pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act – H.R. 263. The act prohibits the private possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species. It also prohibits public contact and would require current owners to register their animals so that first responders know exactly where they are located. This is particularly important during natural disasters.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would also impose meaningful penalties on violators. Violating a municipal ordinance or county order results in a fine equivalent to a traffic ticket. Under the Big Cat Public Safety Act, violators would face steep fines and jail time. The public, first responders, and big cats need this federal solution and the time to do it is NOW.
The Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act – ACE Act (H.R. 1016)
THE ISSUE: U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, U.S. Justice Department, and National Sheriffs’ Association have long recognized the greatest predictor a person will commit interpersonal violence is a history of cruelty to animals. For this reason, in 2016 the FBI created a category for crimes against animals and began tracking those incidents similar to how they track other crimes.
Yet there is no coordinated federal effort to ensure enforcement of animal protection laws and track the best methods for interrupting the long-understood pattern of escalated violence.
SOLUTION: The Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act would add a section to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) dedicated to prosecuting offenders who commit crimes against animals. Doing so would make animal cruelty prosecutions a higher priority and bring greater efficiency and consistency to enforcement efforts.
We can all agree it’s good news over the last several years significant federal anti-cruelty laws have passed, including stiffer penalties for animal fighting and torture, and assistance to domestic violence victims with pets.
The not-so-good-news is that knowledge, implementation of, and enforcement of those laws are siloed within various federal departments and agencies. To ensure federal laws protecting animals – including laws protecting companion animals, wildlife, and animals used in entertainment - are adequately enforced, the federal government needs a team at the DOJ specifically trained to prosecute animal cruelty cases.
The Safeguard American Food Exports - SAFE Act of 2021 (H.R. 3355)
THE ISSUE: American horses are inhumanely shipped to Canada and Mexico, where they are brutally slaughtered for human consumption.
While it is illegal to slaughter horses for human consumption in the U.S., “kill buyers” transport them abroad for that purpose. Aside from the barbaric cruelty inflicted on horses during slaughter, cross-country shipment causes extreme suffering. Loaded into cattle trucks and forced to travel for days without food, water, or rest causes dehydration, injuries, and even death. Public health is also at risk: horses are routinely given drugs dangerous to humans. Eating horse meat contaminated by those substances poses serious health risks.
THE SOLUTION: Pass the Safeguard American Food Exports Act – known as the SAFE Act H.R. 3355. The act would prohibit the transport of horses (or other equines) for slaughter. Tens of thousands of horses, including working horses, companion horses, and most especially, “spent” racehorses, would be spared the horrors of export and dismemberment abroad.
Though each reform described above would be a significant win, combined these measures would mean a sea change for animal welfare in Texas.