After days drawing vitriol from the left, the governor is facing a difficult reality: Dogs are a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike are jumping in on #AbbottHatesDogs.
The bill would have eliminated loopholes in current laws regarding outdoor shelter and restraints for dogs, advocates say, establishing a basic standard of care and making tethering laws enforceable.
Proponents of the bill learned of the veto late Friday night after years of working on its language and several failed attempts at ushering it through.
As of 2021, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws on dog tethering or chaining, according to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center. Studies on dog tethering note how many existing measures to protect animals fall short because ambiguous language makes them difficult to enforce.
In the veto, Abbott characterized the bill as “micromanaging and over-criminalization,” saying Texas has already protected animals by outlawing “true animal cruelty.”
Advocates say Texas’s laws are too broad to protect dogs from cruelty and do not allow law enforcement to intervene quickly enough when necessary.
“We don’t have enough in the books to make sure we protect these animals from harm, mistreatment and possible death,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D), who wrote the bill, told CBS Austin.
Stacy Sutton Kerby of the Texas Humane Legislation Network said Texas’s current law is inadequate and rarely — if ever — enforced.
The proposed bill spelled out definitions for several concepts, such as adequate shelter, listed in the older legislation. This would prevent dog owners from leaning a piece of plywood up against a barn while the sun beats down and calling it good enough, said Sutton Kerby, director of government relations for the animal rights group.
The bill would have introduced the specific requirements that a dog tied up outside must have drinkable water and access to shade. It also banned the use of heavy chains for restraint and would have made it easier for law enforcement to fine or otherwise penalize people who break these rules.
“The bill had a lot of favorable things to help us enforce the law in which people weren’t properly taking care of their pets,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne, the legislative chairman of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, told the Houston Chronicle.
Kerby said that when authorities found her dog, Sunney, the canine weighed 43 pounds and the chain she was dragging weighed 15 pounds.
Sunney had clearly lived much of her life on that chain, Sutton Kerby said. Her collar was embedded in her neck. She didn’t understand being walked on a leash and was “a hot mess.”
Now Kerby calls her a “turnaround hound.”
Though the bill added specificity to dog-chaining provisions, it also made several exceptions for working dogs or dogs that are temporarily unattended.
In his statement explaining the veto, Abbott said the bill would have required owners “to monitor things like the tailoring of the dog’s collar.”
The bill specifies that dogs must be wearing properly fitting collars, which Kerby said is to prevent choking and the kind of embedded collar Sunney ended up with.
“Senate Bill 474, said it perfectly plainly: properly fitting,” Kerby said. “That’s all. There’s no need for special tailoring.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.