Sidebar #2

Since my next post focusing on the 20/20 shellacking of the Texas SPCA is already obscenely long, I’m going to tackle the current state of the law, which is the one part of this that still disturbs me as an animal owner in Texas.

To review, the law regarding animal seizures and appeals is as follows (emphasis mine):

§ 821.025.  APPEAL.  (a)  An owner of an animal ordered sold at public
auction as provided in this subchapter may appeal the
order to a county
court or county court at law in the county in which
the justice or municipal
court is located.  As a condition of

perfecting an appeal, the owner must
file an appeal bond in an
amount determined by the justice or municipal
court to be adequate
to cover the estimated expenses incurred in housing and
caring for
the impounded animal during the appeal process.  The decision of
county court or county court at law may not be further appealed. 

owner may not appeal an

(1)  to give the animal to a nonprofit animal
pound, or society for the protection of animals; 

(2)  to humanely destroy the

(b)  While
an appeal under this section is pending, the
animal may not

(1)  sold or given away as provided by Sections 821.023
and 821.024;  or   
(2)  destroyed, except under circumstances which
require the humane destruction of the animal to prevent undue pain
to or suffering of the animal.

My wife, April, a licensed attorney, explained to me how such a dichotomy based on mode of disposition may have come into the law. My non-lawyer interpretation follows:

An appeal has traditionally been allowed in cases where the state is taking and auctioning livestock, because we as a people have always looked upon livestock as property. And property rights have always been staunchly defended in our country.

Traditionally, companion animals have not been looked upon as "valuable property." You’re not earning income on them. Your income doesn’t directly decline because someone takes your pet. So, one’s rights are not traditionally as protected in this area.

Ironically, the reason that Moore and Chennault did not (in a larger legal sense) get an appeal is that we are treating them as pet owners and not owners of livestock. This comes down to one’s definition, but I stand by my earlier assertion that no one has seventy "pets."

Although Texas law in this area doesn’t explicitly differentiate between livestock and pets:

§ 821.001.  DEFINITION.  In this subchapter, "animal" 
includes every living dumb creature.

historically, livestock seized by the State would have been auctioned as property.

Interestingly, there has been a movement to assign a value to the emotional attachment to one’s pet, similar to mental anguish caused by taking or hurting, say one’s child. If you really want to go deep on that, here’s a lengthy paper on the topic.

That movement is tangentially related to a push to redesignate animal owners as "guardians" of animals, essentially taking away property rights. In that case, the animal really is like your child rather than your property. Many fear that this would lead to unreasonable seizure of livestock.

For a good overview of varying points of view on animal law, there is a transcript from a roundtable at Lewis and Clark Law School.

And a proposal submitted to the Animal Law Section of the Texas Bar.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.