City Council to Vote Wednesday on Controversial Pet Law

Categories: Spaced City

I don't care who owns me, as long as I get my freakin' dinner...

So far, the best argument that folks who oppose the changes have made is this: what if a guy leaves home for an extended period, Fluffy gets out, and the pet-sitter doesn't look for her, and doesn't inform the guy?

Well, it seems to us that that guy has a number of problems, of which only one is a missing dog. For one thing, he associates with assholes. He entrusted his pet to an absolute creep. Frankly, we're not sure why this should be Fluffy's problem. Fluffy needs a good home. And if the guy who leaves her in the care of a complete tool can't provide a good home, someone else can.

Now, we can't understand how, if this were to happen, a reasonable rescue group would refuse to return Fluffy. But in fact, this is what happened with Greater Houston German Shepherd Rescue. Twice. And twice, the group was sued by, you guessed it, The Texas Dog Lawyer.

In both cases, the rescue believed the dogs were ill-cared for. Both were heartworm positive. The infection is transmitted by mosquitoes, which as we all know thrive in climates like Houston's. Adult heartworms, which can range from 4-12 inches, depending on sex, live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. They release larvae into the bloodstream. As the baby worms grow, they affect the heart and lungs. The severity depends on the number of worms, and how active the dog is; the heart may have to work overtime before it eventually weakens and gives out. This is painful.

It's also incredibly easy to prevent: you give your dog one pill a month. At SNAP, a low-cost clinic in Houston, a six-month supply costs between $36-$57, depending on the dog's weight.

In at least one of the lawsuits, the owners claimed that the missing dog became heartworm positive after it ran off. The rescue was skeptical, given the months-long incubation period.

Did the rescue overreact in one or both of these cases? Possibly. But it appears that in one of the cases, the rescue clearly ignored the law by not returning the dog without question. That the rescue defied the law seems to be more of a problem inherent to the rescue itself, rather than to any proposed amendments.

Anderson, through something she calls the "Texas Dog Commission," has mounted an email campaign with an Orwellian slant, proclaiming that "Houston Wants to Take Away Your Dog--Need Help Today."

The email alleges that the new ordinance "would allow the government to own your dog" if not found "within a brief holding period." Not a month, but a "brief" period.

The email also states: "they are trying to take valuable property away without any due process, not to mention that dogs are beloved family members." That sentence seems to tell us a bit about the "Texas Dog Commission's" hierarchy of domestic animals: they are property, like a car or refrigerator, first; and companion animals second.

Included in the email is a boilerplate petition opponents of the amendments can send to council members, stating "The City is attempting to do away with property rights without due process."

This might be the heart of the problem: pets are indeed property, like the aforementioned car and refrigerator, but they are also sentient beings that can feel pain and fear, become ill, and show aggression in fearful situations. In those respects, they are a most unique property, and maybe it's not unreasonable to attach a unique law.

Most of the folks we spoke to in the rescue community appear to favor the amendments, which we think says a lot. Pat Guter, a woman who wanted to explain to us why these amendments were a bad idea disappeared after first contact. Guter, who holds a law degree, told us that we ought to speak to Anderson about it. We told her that Anderson wasn't on the best of terms with us. Guter said that that wouldn't matter -- this issue was bigger than any grudges, or any petty politics. She us we'd be hearing more from Anderson, or from her, to get the word out. It did not shock us that we never heard from either.

The folks in favor of the ordinance tend to be more talkative. Steve Halpert, an attorney and BARC volunteer -- you know, a person who sees first-hand the kind of thing that's a little too hard for many of us to look at -- tells us via email that preserving the 30-day redemption period would have a chilling effect on adoptions from BARC.

"Why would any adopter subject a child to getting attached to an animal at BARC if a previously unknown owner can appear within 30 days and reclaim the animal? Several rescues have already informed BARC they will no longer transfer stray animals from BARC because of" one of the aforementioned lawsuits.

Halpert also notes an inconsistency in the current law: "BARC is prohibited by state statute from disclosing the identity of the new adopter to the previous owner. BARC is not prohibited from contacting the new adopter and asking them to return the animal, but BARC has no legal recourse if the new adopter refuses."

Furthermore, it appears that the current 30-day redemption period is further rendered moot if the law already allows BARC to put down an animal with a name-tag six days after the first attempt at owner notification.

As Newport tells us in an email: the proposals "simply formalize practices that are already fully authorized by law (i.e., don't do anything with an animal unless and until the relevant hold period has expired). BARC currently makes life and death decisions for dozens of animals every day that have been at BARC beyond the minimum hold periods."

To us, that's where the opponents' real fight needs to be. Preserving ownership means nothing if your pet is already dead. And if your pet ain't dead after the holding period, chances are it's because a rescue group pulled him. Shouldn't Anderson's supporters be pushing for an extended mandatory holding period -- a law that would preserve life, and not just title? In practical terms, of course, that would be absurd. But the intent would be noble.

What's not noble is employing fear tactics, or presenting various degrees of the truth. We hope that before the City Council votes Wednesday, council members will be able to base their decision on solid information. This means getting solid information from Anderson's side. They just better not ask for the names of the 38 dogs who died, so the owners may finally know. In our experience, if you ask that, Anderson will just take her ball and go home. And we'd hate for council members to miss the benefit of her wisdom before they cast their vote.

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You need to realize, Mr. Malisow, that there are many people in town who are well aware of your reputation as a lying weasel and THAT'S the real reason they won't return your calls.


I can only speak to my personal experience, but the 6-day rule is scary. I love my cat. He is chipped and I have spent thousands of dollars on him, with boarding, illnesses, etc. He went missing in 2010. I did everything I could to find him, to no avail. I visited my cousin for nine days in Barcelona four months after he went missing. The day that I got to Spain, my sister called and said that my cat had been found north of the Beltway (I live by 59 and 610 inside the loop). Luckily, the chip company allows for three phone numbers as the first two were my cell and work number. I was not going to check either phone while in Europe. The third number was for a family member who went to pick him up. If that weren't the case, I would have come home from vacation to find out that my cat had been put to sleep. It still makes me sick to think that could have happened. There are definitely circumstances beyond your control that make the 6-day rule beyond cruel.


As a guiding principle, we should be working toward a no-kill policy. I acknowledge that this is an unrealistic goal at this time.


@SomethingOfANeerDoWell  I hate the way this story seems to support the idea that the pet should die because its owners were irresponsible. But I can also see the ways in which this can go so wrong. Every dog owner has had the experience of having their pet find some unknown escape from the yard, or forgetting to close the garage door and the mutt somehow getting out that way (which has happened to me and my Basset on a couple of occasions). I can see a responsible and desperate dog owner calling BARC, looking for their hound, and some clueless clerk over there not having any clue about what dog they're talking about. So the dog is supposed to die because all these people messed up? And taking the owner's rights away isn't fair, either.

1972houston @Anse @SomethingOfANeerDoWell  It is very easy to cast a judgment and say what one feels a "responsible owner" should/would do, Some folks in this world do not realize that they need to actually physically go and look within the animal shelters daily. Folks who do realize this, usually have done so because of personal experiences. Having volunteered at a few shelters, BARC included, I can honestly say even when people do come and look they do not always find the animal they are looking for the first couple of trips. A 72 hour window is an extremely short period of time, if your animal has tags--those can easily come off.  Most of the animals that are picked up off the streets as "strays" are owned, but they do not have microchips so they end up "strays". You also cannot tell someone to just look at the shelter's website, because searching by a "breed" may not always turn up your animal. The breed is a guess with the majority of animals by intake shelter staff unless obviously a pure breed. I've seen people miss finding their animal because it was listed as a Lab mix when in their view it was a Shepherd mix. Or it listed as a Pit when it was a boxer mix or an American Bulldog. There is no easy resolution to the problem. Folks who do give a crap, need to make sure that all animals are microchipped, that the chips are REGISTERED, and that the contact information is and remains current. That is the ONLY way that your animals will have any level of protection if lost/stolen/missing. $30 investment for the possibility of saving a life. 

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