Texas, We Have a Problem: HB 998 is Breed Specific Legislation

  • Targets intact males of all Breeds 20 pounds or more
  •  Requires $100,000.00 insurance
  •  Strict liability (no defenses) for dog injuring an animal or person
  •  Dogs must be in “secure enclosures” intended for dogs legally declared dangerous even if they have no incidents
  •  Targets dogs that have done nothing
  •  Prevents dogs from fun off lead activities
  •  Dogs must be restrained at all times
  •  Dogs could not even play in their own back yards
  •  Must have a Dangerous Dog sign for dogs that have done nothing

House Bill 998 introduced by Representative McClendon (Democrat–San Antonio) is indeed breed specific legislation despite that it does not name any dog breeds. Instead, this bill has targeted all breeds that weigh twenty pounds or more including Beagles to Bull Mastiffs.

The bill singles out intact male dogs. It requires that owners of intact male dogs that weigh twenty or more pounds must be leashed at all times and be kept in secure enclosures. The owners of these dogs must also have at least $100,000.00 in liability insurance.

In Texas, there is no mandatory insurance for home owners or renters and this bill is unclear whether a homeowner’s policy would suffice. There are actually some animal control authorities that will not accept homeowner’s liability insurance for a dog that has been deemed dangerous. The cost of an individual policy for a dog is outrageous. More children are hurt on bicycles every year than are injured by dogs, but the state does not mandate insurance for bicycle riders. The state does not mandate insurance for gun owners, either. In fact, children are at the greatest risk for being injured by their own parents. Should the state require parents insurance?

Importantly, there is a legal definition of a “secure enclosure.” A “secure enclosure” is the type of enclosure that is required for owners of dogs that have been legally declared dangerous pursuant to Texas Dangerous Dog laws. A “secure enclosure” according to state law is one that is locked, capable of preventing the entry of people, capable of preventing the escape of the dog, has a sign indicating there is a “dangerous dog” and is in conformance with local laws established by animal control.

The last requirement that owners of the targeted dogs must follow local laws for secure enclosures is a huge problem. Some cities and counties have added provisions for example that require the enclosure to have a top or a concrete bottom. Some specify the size and gauge of the fencing materials and even the type of signage on the enclosure.

Remember, all these laws apply to dogs regardless that they may have never bitten or even growled at someone. This law creates strict liability for merely owning one of the targeted dogs. That means that if your dog does nip someone that there are no defenses to the incident. For example, if someone was hitting your dog with a stick and he bites in self-defense that would not be a defense. This would apply even if the dog was in his own fenced yard and someone was on top of the fence striking him with a stick if the fenced yard does not comply with the laws for a secure enclosure.

It gets worse. This law also creates strict liability for owners of the targeted dogs if they injure another animal such as a dog or cat. For example, if your dog was in the backyard and it did not qualify as a secure enclosure, and a stray cat comes in the yard and is injured by your dog, then you are strictly liable for the stray cat.

There are other very significant implications of this proposed law because these dogs could not participate in any events off lead. For example, these dogs could not go to a dog park, could not be in agility competitions, entered in rally, tracking, obedience trials, or participate in off lead police work or hunting. Further, no male greyhounds could participate in dog racing since this sport is done off lead. Keep in mind that conformation dogs (show dogs) compete unneutered and many of them compete in other off lead sports. Also, many dogs participate in the other events intact because genetics play a key role in dogs that are used for police work, hunting, and the other fun events dogs participate in. In fact, these dogs could not even play in their own backyard unless it qualified as a “secure enclosure.”

Two years ago, Rep. Martinez-Fisher (San Antonio) introduced a similar bill that was soundly defeated, but with a notable difference–it did not target intact males. BSL is an issue that tends to unify, not divide. The provision of this bill that it applies to unneutered dogs is an attempt to fracture the across the board support against all breed specific legislation by putting in a neutering provision that is appealing to some dog folks who favor spay neuter initiatives. It also capitalizes on the myth that all unneutered dogs are aggressive which is not true.

While being supportive of spaying and neutering pets, there are valid reasons to not neuter all dogs. Importantly, responsible breeders breed for temperament, health, intelligence, and conformation in addition to carrying on genetics for a particular purpose such as search work or police dog work. Responsible breeding is the only way we can get our next generation of nice dogs and the only way the rainbow of beautiful breeds can be carried forth. If all male dogs twenty pounds or more are neutered, then think of all the wonderful dog breeds that will be extinct.

This bill targets all male dogs over twenty pounds whether an AKC champion or a mixed breed pup off the streets. It is breed specific because it targets all breeds and mixed breeds twenty pounds and over and any infraction is a crime. The first violation of this law would be a Class C misdemeanor (punishable with a fine) and any additional infractions would escalate to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable with a fine up to $2000.00 and up to 180 days in jail). We need to work to defeat this bill and any others like it.

To Find Your State Legislators: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

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Zandra Anderson ©
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