Houston animal advocate Aliesha Medley said she was not a big fan of Senate Bill 474, which aimed to provide increased protections for dogs that are chained or tethered by their owners, because she did not think the proposed state legislation went far enough. She said she wanted a clearer definition for what constitutes adequate shelter for animals that spend most of their time outside, and she also wanted the minimum tether length to be expanded.
The owner of Houston Huts 4 Mutts, an outreach organization for chained dogs that has a Heights location at 1215 W. 19th St., still saw the legislation as an improvement over existing state laws. So when Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed it on June 18, after the bill had passed through the Texas Legislature with bipartisan support, she went into action.
Medley said she organized a statewide protest planned for Thursday in Austin, where demonstrators were expected to wear hot pink and march from the state capitol to the governor’s mansion on the first day of a special legislative session that will not revisit the issue.
“In just Houston, we have over 250,000 chained dogs,” said Medley, adding that tethered dogs are especially common in neighborhoods such as Acres Homes and Independence Heights. “I don’t think most people comprehend the enormity of the problem. I just don’t think (Abbott) knows it’s an issue.”
Medley is not the only local animal advocate angered by Abbott’s veto of the bill, which provided clearer definitions for proper shelter and safe tethering practices compared to legislation passed in 2007, along with eliminating a 24-hour warning period in which law enforcement and animal control officers must wait before issuing a citation or seizing a dog that appears to be in danger. Oak Forest residents Melinda Gleghorn, Jennifer Graves and Cassi Squyres Walker, all of whom have been affiliated with the locally based Animal Justice League, said they were frustrated, disappointed and dumbfounded as to why Abbott vetoed the bill.
Gleghorn said she created yard signs that say, “Greg Abbott Supports Animal Torture” and “#abbotthatesdogs,” which have been purchased by area residents who are animal lovers. Her initial batch of 20 signs sold out, so Gleghorn said she has ordered 20 more.
Abbott’s veto also has drawn the ire of Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who is part of the region’s Animal Cruelty Task Force and has an animal cruelty division in his department. Rosen said he wants his officers to have the ability to seize an abused animal without having to wait 24 hours, because owners who have received warnings often relocate the dogs in response.
Rosen also said dogs are often tethered as a “security mechanism” and not treated like traditional pets.
“We do not have enough protections for animals. I will say that from the top of a mountain,” Rosen said. “Animals do not have voices. They cannot talk about what’s happening to them. If they don’t have shelter, water, food and healthcare, nobody can tell other than by visually looking at an animal that there is a problem.”
In a veto explanation posted to his website June 21, Abbott wrote that Senate Bill 474 amounted to “micro-managing and over-criminalization.” He also wrote that Texas already has statutes in place that outlaw “true animal cruelty.”
Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, said in a statement emailed to The Leader on Wednesday that the planned protest in Austin and the yard signs created by Gleghorn are a “false attack on the Governor.”
“Saying Texans love their dogs would be an understatement, which is why our state statutes already protect Texas dogs by outlawing animal cruelty, and why the legislature passes bipartisan legislation ever session to ensure their welfare,” Eze said. “During his time in office, Governor Abbott has signed 13 bills into law protecting the safety and well-being of dogs, including seven bills just this past session.”
Another member of Abbott’s press office provided a list of the seven bills that were referenced. They pertained to microchips, the use of service dogs in court, a memorial monument for police dogs, appeals to court orders requiring dangerous dogs to be destroyed, community supervision for animal abusers, tax exemptions for animal purchases and the ability to retrieve property from former residences.
The local animal advocates said they took issue with some of the language in Abbott’s veto explanation, which complained that the law would have required tailoring of a dog’s collar, limits on time spent in the bed of a truck and a minimum tether length based on a dog’s size. The existing law passed in 2007 has the same length requirements as the proposed law, which included exceptions for dogs in truck beds as well as tethering related to agricultural business endeavors and hunting. The law also would not have applied to dogs tied to a trolley system that allows them to move along a running line.
“Do I read his statement and think there’s a certain amount of misdirection? Probably,” said Walker, the president of the Animal Justice League. “I think it’s a flippant response that’s either borne out of ignorance or he’s trying to misdirect the public about what the bill actually did. I think both cases are sad for Texas and Houston in particular.”
Graves, who co-founded the Animal Justice League along with Gleghorn and is now part of a similar organization called Unity for a Solution, said one of her biggest issues with the existing law pertaining to chained dogs is it contains vague language and is difficult to enforce. For example, she said she once encountered a situation in Acres Homes in which a dog was tied to a chain-link fence, standing in its own urine and feces and covered by a rotting piece of plywood that was balanced atop part of the fence as well as a bush. The setup was considered legal under Texas law, Graves said.
Senate Bill 474 would have required tethered, unattended dogs to be in an area where there is no standing water – or urine or feces – while being protected from direct sunlight and having access to potable water.
“This is common sense. Help us fight for these freaking animals,” Graves said. “That’s why we’re all so emotional about 474 being vetoed.”
Gleghorn said she viewed the legislation as a “lifeline” for those trying to combat the dangers of dogs being tethered. As a result, she said Abbott’s veto was the most disappointing thing she’s encountered in her decade as a local animal advocate.
That’s why she pushed back by creating the yard signs. It’s also why Medley decided to lead the protest, saying she hopes to keep the issue at the forefront while reminding state lawmakers that it still needs to be addressed – if not during the special legislative session than in a subsequent one.
“We asked for an inch,” Medley said. “Now we want a mile.”