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What to Do When You’ve Been Charged with Animal Cruelty

Posted on June 17, 2015 by Mintzer Law

chained elephant

Texas has been enforcing animal cruelty laws for well over 100 years. Because Texas is home to many people who raise and care for livestock, this state has a history of punishing people who mistreat domesticated animals. However, animal cruelty statutes do not only apply to farm animals. The laws also apply to household pets, including some wild animals that have been captured and treated as domesticated animals.

There is a range of possible legal punishments for a Cruelty to Animals conviction. Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, mistreatment of animals can be considered either a civil offense or a criminal offense. The penalties can vary based on the severity of the mistreatment.

Defining Animal Cruelty in Texas

Section 42.09 of the Texas Penal Code lists definitions for several different types of animal mistreatment. They include:

  • Cruelty to livestock animals
  • Attacks on assistance animals
  • Cruelty to non-livestock animals

The following section also details offenses related to organized animal fighting.

The entries define different behaviors that may be classified as animal mistreatment. They include:

  • Torture
  • Abandonment
  • Unreasonable failure to provide food, water and care
  • Transporting in cruel and unusual conditions
  • Administering poison to animals
  • Forcing animals to fight
  • Using animals as a lure in dog races
  • Overworking an animal
  • Intentionally killing, injuring, tripping or attacking an animal

Committing any of these actions against a livestock animal or a domesticated animal may be grounds for criminal penalties.

Penalties for Animal Cruelty

When determining appropriate punishments for defendants who are convicted of mistreating animals, courts will consider what type of mistreatment occurred. There are two primary categories of mistreatment:

  • Intentional
  • Failure to act

The “intentional” category includes actions like torturing or injuring an animal. This is the most serious type of animal cruelty and it can be subject to the most severe penalties. In Houston, a defendant who is convicted of torturing, killing, or seriously injuring an animal can face:

  • Conviction on a state jail felony charge
  • A term of incarceration from 180 days or up to two years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

The other category of offenses, known as “failure to act” offenses, includes actions like failing to provide food and care for animals. Some of the less serious intentional cruelty offenses and failure to act offenses can be punished with:

  • Conviction on a Class A Misdemeanor charge
  • A term of incarceration of up to one year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $4000

Civil Penalties

In some cases, a defendant who is charged with mistreating animals may face civil penalties instead of, or in addition to, criminal penalties. The civil laws in Texas that cover animal cruelty have a wider scope than the criminal laws. This means that these laws apply to more situations and to more animals than the criminal statutes.

Civil cases usually occur when someone files a civil suit against another person and claims that they have engaged in animal mistreatment. If evidence is presented that shows animal mistreatment has occurred, the court may order that the offender be punished. The punishments can include:

  • A fine paid to the city or county
  • Restitution paid to the owner of the animals
  • Immediate forfeiture of all animals and livestock
  • Loss of the right to care for animals in the future

In both civil and criminal animal cruelty cases, a convicted offender may be forced to give up control of their livestock, pets or domesticated animals. The animals may be given to a care facility or humanely euthanized. In some cases, the owner of the abused animals may not be allowed to own animals for a pre-determined period of time.

Legal Defenses

Texas laws recognize the fact that hurting an animal or taking an animal’s life may sometimes be necessary. A defense attorney may be able to use one or more commonly accepted defenses to fight against animal cruelty charges. These defenses may include:

  • The animal was killed to protect the defendant’s livestock
  • The animal was injured in the process of a necessary medical procedure
  • The animal was killed to prevent bodily harm to the defendant or another person
  • The animal was killed in a legal hunting incident or as part of legal wildlife management

Being charged with animal cruelty in Houston is serious but a strong defense is possible. With strong evidence, a defense attorney may be able to show that the incident took place because of necessity, not because of a desire to harm animals. If this is successful, the charges may be reduced or dropped.


If you haven been accused of Animal Cruelty, it’s important to get legal representation immediately. Contact the law office of Rand Mintzer today. We will fight hard to protect your rights and future. Call (713) 862-8880 or email for a free, confidential consultation.

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Photo Vinoth Chandar | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0