Animal Cruelty and Wildlife Crimes in Texas


When a man was filmed on Facebook beating a turtle with a hammer in Austin, it provoked a public outcry. However, the fact he was not charged with an animal cruelty offense but was cited for hunting without a license highlights the narrow nature of crimes against animals in Texas.

Media reports said a video of the alleged beating of the turtle with a hammer at Lady Bird Lake was posted on Facebook by a passer-by called Geoffrey Frank. A report on MySanAntonio stated Frank was running along the trail when he came across the animal attack and videoed it.

Animal cruelty crimes exist in Texas but are patchy

Later, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department identified the man in the video with the help of social media and tips to the Crime Stoppers hotline. He was cited for hunting non-game wildlife without a license and illegal dumping of the wildlife, according to the department which said he told them it was a snapping turtle, and he hit it with a hammer in self-defense.

Although cases like this cause outcry, animal cruelty laws in Texas are limited in their scope compared to those of many other states and the state’s laws are framed toward protecting domesticated animals and livestock rather than wildlife.

Wildlife and Animal Cruelty Laws in Texas

The Texas Penal Code sets out penalties for cruelty to non-livestock animals. Under Section 40.093 pets are protected from treatment including:

1 Torture

2 Neglect

3 Bodily injury

4 Overwork

5 Intentional fighting

6 Denial of food

7 Cruel transportation

An offense is a Class A misdemeanor unless the offender has at least two previous offenses, in which case it becomes a state jail felony.

Texas law has separate sections for cruelty to livestock animals and for assistance animals.

Animal cruelty became a felony in Texas in 2001 when “Loco’s Law,” was enacted. The law was named after a puppy whose eyes were intentionally gouged out. Animal cruelty is punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail.

There are also civil penalties. Animals can be taken from their owners who may be ordered to pay restitution under the civil law. The state doesn’t differentiate between domestic and wild animals.

There are also specific offenses related to fighting animals in Texas, In 2011, the Texas legislature passed a law that increased the penalties for cockfighting, allowing police officers to criminally charge spectators. People who allow their property to be used for cockfighting can also face charges as well as those who take part in the sport and bring their animals to the ring.

The animal cruelty laws that apply to pets or livestock are not extended to wildlife in Texas. In the case of the man accused of attacking a turtle in Austin, he was cited for hunting non-game wildlife without a license and illegal dumping of wildlife, rather than a cruelty offense.

A study of the animal cruelty laws in Texas by Michigan State University noted the laws are narrow and only apply to any “domesticated living creature or any wild living creature previously captured.” In other words, criminal cruelty laws don’t extend to wild animals.

However, you can still fall foul of Texas Parks and Wildlife Laws related to protected and endangered species and its complicated licensing regime.

If you are charged with an animal cruelty or any other wildlife related offense, it’s important to talk to an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney who can advise you or your rights and assist you in this complicated area of the law. We can advise you of the difference between felony and misdemeanor crimes in Texas.

Call us today to talk to an experienced Austin criminal defense attorney at (512) 399-2311.

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