WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The unanimous approval of an animal cruelty prevention bill this week by the U.S. House of Representatives is welcome news for animal advocates in the Austin area after a recent increase in those kinds of cases.
A bipartisan pair of Florida Congressmen introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
KXAN previously reported that the act would revise a law passed in 2010, which criminalized the creation and sale of “crush videos” showing animals being abused and killed. Federal law also prohibits animal fighting.
The PACT Act expands the ability for federal authorities to prosecute people for crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling or sexually exploiting them.
Misty Valenta with the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter told KXAN Friday that she supports this legislation, which now needs approval from the U.S. Senate. However, no vote is scheduled at this time.
“Any legislation that can pass to help maintain the standard of care, or increase the standard of care, for our companion animals is something that we support,” Valenta said.
The Williamson County shelter serves as a safe haven for animals seized in cruelty investigations. Since this summer, Valenta said the shelter has taken in more than 40 pets from animal cruelty cases, which is unusually high. The facility is still providing care to 33 dogs while the court proceedings are pending.
“Those animals must wait until their case is heard at the court,” Valenta explained, “and while they’re waiting, we’re taking care of them.”
John Schultz, a Round Rock police officer, is currently fostering Champ, a white bull terrier that was allegedly run over and dragged by his owner through a neighborhood in August.
“He can’t run like a normal dog and stuff like that due to his injuries,” Schultz explained, “but at the same time he walks very quickly when he gets excited. He plays just like a normal dog. He doesn’t have very much longer in order to get back to where he was before the incident occurred.”
The dog’s owner, Zager Yuseth Zelaya-Rubio, is now facing a state felony charge related to this incident of cruelty to a non-livestock animal.
Passage of the PACT Act this week made Schultz wonder what effect federal prosecution for these cases might have in the future.
“I think it allows [law enforcement] the opportunity to have them prosecute somebody on a bigger level,” Schultz said, “that maybe people will think about some of the decisions they make before situations such as this occur.”
The Texas Humane Legislation Network, which works to address unjust animal welfare laws in the state, applauded approval by the U.S. House of this legislation. Under the PACT Act, those convicted would face federal felony charges, fines and up to seven years in prison.
Shelby Bobosky, the organization’s interim executive director, released the following statement Friday:
“THLN applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for voting through the PACT Act. Texas’ animal cruelty statue was strengthened in the 2017 legislative session and the PACT Act will only serve to compliment Texas’ tough animal cruelty law when crimes are committed on federal property or across state lines.
Passage of this Act is a national progression to keep our communities safe. There is a proven link between cruelty to animals and violence to humans and in 2016, the FBI began tracking animal cruelty crimes. Animal cruelty is a community issue and if you improve animal welfare in our communities, you improve public safety for everyone.”
While it remains unclear if the PACT Act will ultimately be enacted, animal advocacy groups pointed out that the U.S. Senate approved similar bills in the past twice.
KXAN wanted to find out what makes a cruelty to animal charge a felony. The state’s penal code showed that there are five ways:
- If the person tortures an animal.
- Seriously hurting another person’s pet.
- Making two animals fight each other.
- Using a live animal as a lure in a dog race.
- Being a repeat offender of misdemeanor animal cruelty crimes.
Misdemeanor crimes in Texas include not giving an animal food, shelter or water. Those kind of charges could also result from abandoning an animal, causing harm to another person’s pet or overworking an animal.