When frigid weather hits North Texas, we like to remind people to protect the four P’s: people, pipes, plants, and pets.
Did you know it’s illegal in Texas to leave your pet outside in freezing conditions without adequate shelter, food, and water? It’s considered animal cruelty and it can carry jail time and fines.
Here’s a look at the laws and potential punishments, as well as tips for keeping pets safe in winter weather.
Featured image: Little Annie is cozy under the covers. (Credit: VS Attorney Alex Thornton)
When Is It Illegal to Leave Your Pet Outside in Snow or Cold?
In Texas, there are actually several laws that would make it illegal to leave a pet outside in extreme weather. They include cruelty to non-livestock animals and unlawful restraint of a dog. Some cities also have specific ordinances in place to protect pets in extreme weather conditions.
→ Cruelty to Non-Livestock Animals: Under Texas Penal Code 42.092, a person commits cruelty to a non-livestock animal if he or she fails unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, care or shelter; abandons an animal in their custody; confines or transports an animal in a cruel manner, injures someone else’s animal, or overworks an animal. Abandoning a dog or cat in freezing temperatures without adequate food, water or shelter would certainly violate this law.
Cruelty to a non-livestock animal is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4,000 fine. If the conviction is a third offense, it is a state jail felony, punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine.
→Unlawful Restraint of a Dog: Under Texas law, a pet owner “may not leave a dog outside and unattended by use of a restraint that unreasonably limits the dog’s movement” when temperatures dip below 32 degrees. The law doesn’t just apply to cold weather. It also applies to heat advisories, tornado warnings, hurricanes, and tropical storms.
Unlawful restraint of a dog is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine, unless the owner has a previous conviction in which case it is elevated to a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to $180 days in jail and a $2000 fine.
→City Ordinance Violations: Many cities have a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to protecting pets and have specific ordinances in place. For example, in San Antonio, pet owners must provide suitable shelters for a pet – including walls, a roof, and an elevated floor – or face a $300 fine.
Were There Incidents of Abandoned Pets in the 2021 Snowmageddon?
In 2021, Texans endured what is commonly referred to as Snowmaggedon, the great Texas snow storm of 2021. More than 246 people died in that February storm, which took down much of the state’s power grid. Pets were also among the casualties.
- Six dogs, one of which was dead, were discovered abandoned outside an auto shop in Houston, where temperatures had dropped below freezing. According to local news KHOU, authorities responded to a call and found five dogs still alive outside the Texas auto shop — but no sign of the pets’ owners. The temperature outside was 18 degrees when the surviving dogs were rescued. A sixth dog was found dead, partially covered in the snow.
- In Harris County, a dog owner was arrested after leaving eight dogs outside in freezing temperatures for days with no shelter access. The dogs were discovered after a report was made to the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce.
- In Grapeland, local police responded to a home after a tip came in about possible animal cruelty. When they arrived, they found four horses, four living dogs, and one dog that had already frozen to death. The dead dog was found in a wire cage in the backyard. The four living dogs were found chained outside, covered in ice without shelter.
What are Some Tips for Protecting Pets in the Cold?
Here are some basic tips for keeping pets safe during winter weather:
- Bring pets indoors when the temperature drops. That’s the best place for them.
- While many cities cannot accommodate pets in warming shelters, some make arrangements to make sure furry and feathered family members have accommodations at the warming stations.
- Avoid shaving your pet’s fur during the winter months.
- Pets can get frostbite and hypothermia. Bundle up dogs in a sweater or put booties on their paws when going outside in cold weather. Wipe them down if they get wet.
- Avoid antifreeze and other chemicals used to melt ice, as they are toxic to pets.
- If you have outside pets, such as horses or goats, make sure they have access to a barn or shelter. Make sure they have access to unfrozen water at all times and feed them more forage during extreme cold.
What Should You Do If You See a Pet Left Out in the Cold?
If you see a pet left in the cold or other extreme conditions without food or shelter, contact your local law enforcement or animal control agency. For non-emergency situations, complaints may also be filed online through the SPCA of Texas website.
Facing Animal Abuse Allegations?
Leaving a dog outside in the frigid temperatures will definitely land you in the doghouse – and quite possibly, behind bars. If you or a loved one is facing an animal cruelty charge, it’s imperative to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While it is illegal to leave pets outside in snow or cold in many situations, it doesn’t always cross the line to animal cruelty. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with a member of our team.