I’ve lived in my apartment complex for almost seven years. When I first moved to Austin few places would allow “aggressive” breed dogs. My beloved Anna (seen in my profile picture) was a Chow Chow and German Shepherd mix. Both breeds are considered “aggressive” causing challenges to home and rental insurance. My apartment complex didn’t limit on breed labels and so we found a home. Shortly after moving in I added another dog to the pack, Rhys, another Chow Shepherd mix (she’s the dog featured with my foster kittens in the photos).
When I started my TNR work with the apartment colony I kept management in the loop. I told them my goals and why I was doing it. They were extremely supportive of my efforts. Previously they had tried to find an organization to come trap and fix all the cats, but they were told they had to do it by themselves. The management staff was excited I was helping and made sure all the maintenance staff knew what I was doing. Recently we even discussed hosting a community night where I could help train and share resources with other neighbors who might be interested in joining the work.
On Friday my main contact in the management staff called me. They wanted my insight into a problem. A resident had recently called Animal Control. He had seen a cat with an injured back leg (I suspect he saw Limpy). He was concerned it was attacked by raccoons and needed to be trapped. He also wondered if all the cats needed to be removed because of the danger. The Animal Control representative told the resident that the feral cats had a right to exist in the community, but then added that the resident had the right to “dispose” of the cats. He was concerned about this advice and called the apartment complex about the conversation. They in turn, called me to see if I knew the law.
I love research, so I was happy to delve into the question of what the law might be regarding feral cats in Texas or Austin. What I quickly discovered is that feral cats can be a tricky aspect of the law. I first went through the hoops of calling Austin Animal Center which routes you to 311. They routed me to Austin Police Department and my local representative. The APD rep went through a few searches and told me about ordinance:
3-5-4 DESTRUCTION OF A DANGEROUS ANIMAL.
(A) The health authority may destroy a dangerous animal running at large if the health authority reasonably believes that the animal’s capture may be hazardous due to the nature, disposition or diseased condition of the animal.
(B) A peace officer may destroy a dangerous animal if the peace officer reasonably believes that the animal presents a threat to a person’s life.
Source: 1992 Code Section 3-1-3(C); Ord. 031009-9; Ord. 031211-11.
A feral, she told me, can be considered a dangerous animal. But even on that premise, I told her that this code only allows a non-citizen the option of disposing of the animal. While I talked with her I was able to find online the Texas law regarding shooting stray animals. I read her what I found:
Shooting “stray” Dogs and Cats (Penal Code 42.09 Animal Cruelty). Any person who shoots a non-livestock animal, which includes any stray or feral cat or dog, and a wild living creature previously captured, can be charged with a felony offense. Penal Code 42.092 of the State of Texas law states that a person must have the owner’s consent to kill the animal (exceptions to prosecution are provided in Section 42.092(e)(1)). It is clear that a “stray” dog or cat either has no owner or that the person who shoots the animal did not get the owner’s consent.
Her response was that since this was only for shooting a person could easily put out poison for the animal. She told me how I can search city codes and ordinance and our call ended. I was hardly satisfied, although I appreciated her attempt to figure out this niche of the law. I emailed Mike at the Austin Humane Society’s Feral Cat Program as well as Sheila at Shadow Cats. I was determined to find more information to provide to my apartment complex. I could not let neighbors think they could legally kill the feral cats. I was also terrified to learn that perhaps, just perhaps, they could in fact legally kill the feral cats.
Luckily Sheila had an amazing flier from the Texas Humane Legislation Network. It clearly and succinctly outlines the law.
Texas Animal Anti-Cruelty Law: Texas Penal Code §§ 42.09 and 42.092
Non-Livestock Animals (Section 42.092)
It is a Crime
To intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
Torture, cruelly kill, or cause serious injury to any dog or cat, including strays and ferals;
Kill, poison, or cause bodily injury to an animal without the owner’s consent;
Abandon or fail to provide food, water, care, or shelter to any animal in your custody; or
Transport or confine an animal in a cruel manner.
Livestock Animals (Section 42.09)
It is a Crime To:
Torture a livestock animal;
Abandon or fail to provide food, water, or care to a livestock animal in your custody;
Transport or confine a livestock animal in a cruel and unusual manner;
Trip a horse; or
Seriously overwork a livestock animal.
Also illegal are animal fighting and using live animals as racing lures!
O F S P E C I A L N O T E:
Since September of 2007, domesticated animals including any stray or feral cat or dog are included under this law. Torturing, killing, poisoning or causing bodily injury to these animals on first offense carries a fine of as much as $10,000 and up to two years in jail.
I quickly shared this helpful flier with both Mike at the Humane Society and my apartment complex. I also sent this information to the Austin Animal Center, explaining what an Animal Control representative said and what the law is. Their response was that they would share the information with another department. My apartment management team was so thankful the law supported their initial reaction that hurting or killing the feral cats was illegal. They printed the flier out and posted it in the complex’s mailbox area and computer area.
My apartment complex posted the Texas anti-cruelty laws in public
While it is true that my apartment complex is ahead of the game when it comes to being supportive of “aggressive” breed dogs, like my own dear Rhys (as well as giving me their regrets and kind wishes when Anna passed on in February this year), and supportive of my efforts to help the feral cats, I believe more apartment complexes might embrace feral cat communities. However, it takes education, and it takes a feral cat ally to be encouraging and positive of the complex’ efforts, as small as they might be.