While the state Legislature continues to ignore numerous priority issues across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is currently admonishing state lawmakers to prioritize a seemingly obscure problem: leashing dogs.

Background

In 2007, the state Legislature passed the Unlawful Restraint of Dogs Act, which Gov. Rick Perry then signed into law. This original bill addressed the material of collars and stated that the dog must have enough leash to move about.

However, the bill left some issues unaddressed, including shelter and access to water for the tethered dog, and required that law enforcement give the owners 24-hour notice and a chance to fix the dog’s conditions before removal.

Consequently, for the past seven years, the Texas Humane Legislation Network has been promoting a new bill called the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act, which would address the issues from the 2007 bill.

In 2015, state lawmakers proposed the “Humane Tethering Bill” in the House of Representatives. The primary author was State Rep. Ken Sheets, and there were four joint-authors and 27 co-authors included to indicate support for the bill.

However, State Rep. Jonathan Stickland killed the bill before it could be voted upon in the House.

A similar series of events occurred in 2017 and 2019 when, respectively, the Adequate Shelter and Restraint bill and the Unlawful Restraint of A Dog bill were put forth in the House; again, Stickland killed the bills with parliamentary maneuvers before votes occurred.

Stickland explained that as a dog owner, he supported the spirit of the bill, but he took issue with several provisions of the bill that could potentially ban training collars. He also argued that the bill should apply statewide with a lesser criminal penalty. Though he offered amendments to address his concerns with the bill, State Rep. Sarah Davis—the bill’s sponsor—refused to compromise.

Those opposed to the bill also argue that the restrictions could be arduous for citizens and potable water is a fairly strict standard to meet. They have also pointed out that since fences are usually lacking in rural areas, tethering is the best way to keep dogs in a designated location.

Currently

In the regular legislative session earlier this year, the Texas House and Senate both passed the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act two days before the end of the session. The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act removes the 24-hour notice requirement and requires water and sturdy shelter for the tethered dog. It also designates a required length for the tether: five times the length of the dog as measured from the tip of the dog’s nose to the base of the tail.

However, in a surprising move on June 18, Gov. Abbott vetoed the bill, citing that “Texas is no place for this kind of micro-managing and over-criminalization.”

Curiously, barely three months later, Abbott designated the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act as one of his priorities for the third legislative special session. A bill has been passed in the Senate that is almost identical to the original bill from the spring regular session.

In the House, three slightly different dog tethering bills have been submitted and are currently being evaluated by the State Affairs Committee. After the committee has met and determined which bill(s) will be moving forward in the legislative process, lawmakers will clarify which new rules to enact on citizens who regularly tether their dogs.

Why Does This Matter?

Abbott is currently facing an election year with multiple primary challengers, and a bill that protects dogs will either be a feel-good hit on the campaign trail or an easy disparaging campaign ad for his opponents.

But more importantly, while Gov. Abbott prioritizes dog tethering, citizens are still being taxed out of their homes from suffocating property taxes, children face potential lifelong sterilization and mutilation, and nothing has been done to halt COVID-19 mandates.