‘What we all want’: Hidalgo County officials stress outdoor dogs law to curb animal cruelty

Hidalgo County area law enforcement authorities are working to protect the lives of animals and plan to utilize the new safe outdoors law, which was implemented in January, to crack down on animal cruelty issues.

Sgt. Denise Davila of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office said the agency is currently working on raising awareness of the law, the Safe Outdoor Dogs Act, which was passed in October and was implemented Jan. 18.

“To help our fur babies to live a happy, healthier life — that’s what we all want and I think we need to continue to educate the public on these things,” said Davila, who believes that informing people about the law will produce a better outcome. “It is a problem in the Valley that we need to combat, the more we educate the public the more we can help these animals.”

The act restricts owners from restraining their dog with a chain or any other weighted material. The length of the restraint cannot be shorter than five times the length of the dog, and the collar has to be properly fitted.

Those who violate the act can be charged with a class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500, or a class B misdemeanor depending if the person has previously violated the law.

“When we are out patrolling it is something that we are kind of implementing now,” Davila said, adding that the best way to implement the law is to educate the community about the act. “We are trying to educate the public as much as we can when we respond to these types of calls. We’ve posted about it on our social media platforms and we had a Paws in the Park event when this law was passed, where we handed out information pamphlets about the law.”

Pharr city officials have also taken to Facebook to educate the public about other elements of the new law, such as its requirement of owners to provide their dogs with adequate shelter that protects them from extreme temperatures, standing water and access to safe drinking water.

The act also removes the previous 24-hour waiting period allowing police officers to take immediate action.

Exceptions to the act include instances in which pets assist with herding, farming, hunting or other field activities. The act also includes exceptions for dogs left in open-air truck beds.

Davila said that in order to give the community additional information the sheriff’s department refers callers to the animal control division.

Olga Garcia, public works director for the city of Pharr, said that during the colder seasons animal control receives more calls about pets not receiving appropriate shelter.

Although it is too early to determine if the act increased the number of calls they have received thus far, she believes that continuing to raise awareness of the law will create an overall positive impact.

“We are working with the media to do a PSA to educate our residents, so they can understand the new ordinance,” Garcia said.

Donna Casamento of the Palm Valley Animal Society, based in Edinburgh, says that as of right now the shelter has received 567 animals in the past few months.

Although there is a mix of animals at the shelter, she said that a large portion of the animals come in with some sort of trauma which reveals the dogs’ living conditions.

“We get a tremendous amount of animals that come in injured in some way, so we know that those animals were not tethered properly,” said Casamento, who added that the shelter has received animals with severely damaged necks. “We also get many animals that come to us that have been tied on short chains or have had embedded collars, or we’ve seen that they’ve bitten off their tether because they clearly had a tether attached to them that was too short for them.”

Casamento added that animals who are tied to a chain for the majority of their lives tend to develop behavioral issues. She hopes the new law is the first of many that will curb inhumane treatment of animals.

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