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Poll | Texans Support Trap-Neuter-Return

State

A feral cat in a trap | Image by Anna Krivitskaya/Shutterstock

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is currently weighing whether Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) programs constitute criminal abandonment after being asked to do so by the Brazoria County District Attorney’s Office.

Supporters of Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) initiatives claim that they are more effective at reducing the number of feral cats in cities than programs that rely on euthanasia.

In a letter to Paxton previously covered by The Dallas Express, Tom Selleck, the district attorney of Brazoria County, asked “Whether a municipality or local government entity may engage in a Trap, Neuter, Release (hereinafter ‘TNR’) program in compliance with Texas Penal Code.”

At issue is whether releasing the animals back to where they were collected violates Texas law, which stipulates that “a person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly … abandons unreasonably an animal in the person’s custody.”

In response to the AG request, the pro-TNVR group Best Friends Animal Society filed a legal brief defending the practice. Best Friends TX AG Brief (1)

Amid debate over TNVR’s use in Texas, Best Friends Animal Society also surveyed registered voters across the state, finding that Texans widely approve of TNVR responses.

For example, 80% of respondents either somewhat or strongly supported a TNVR program, according to a poll. When provided with data showing that such initiatives reduce the number of cats euthanized by more than 75%, over 80% of respondents expressed more support for the program.

Furthermore, the poll found that 64% of registered voters supported TNVR programs even more when told that “animal rights activist group PETA strongly opposes Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return” policies.

Additionally, 73% of participants disagreed with the notion that “humanely trapping a healthy cat, neutering it, and returning it back to where it was found is a form of animal cruelty and abuse.”

In keeping with these findings, the organization’s brief claims that programs that trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return animals to where they were found do not violate Texas law for three primary reasons.

First, Best Friends argues that TNVR programs do not constitute abandonment, suggesting that the “plain meaning” of the word “abandon,” when applied to animals, generally includes the intent to cause the animal harm or suffering.

TNVR programs, the organization insists, do no such thing since the animal is released healthier — being sterilized and vaccinated — than when it was first trapped. Furthermore, the law states that a person commits an offense if they “abandon unreasonably” an animal.

Best Friends argues that since TNVR programs are generally conducted by local government to effectively reduce the feral cat population, it is inherently reasonable insofar as it is a public policy decision.

Furthermore, Best Friends included in the brief a letter from State Senator John Whitmire, who sponsored the legislation criminalizing animal abandonment when it was adopted in 2007.

“Based upon my knowledge,” Whitmire explained, “I believe that … the Texas Penal Code on its face does not prevent, and was never intended to prevent, a municipality or local government from engaging in a TNR program.”

Many animal groups and their representatives across Texas signed on to the filing, including Melissa Webber, the director of Dallas Animal Services. As Dallas Animal Services employs a Trap-Neuter-Return program, Paxton’s decision could affect the City’s efforts.

Marlo Clingman, the public information coordinator for Dallas Animal Services, told The Dallas Express that, while she did not have any additional comment to add, the department does “support BFAS’ brief on the matter.”

Brazoria County DA Selleck has explained that he asked the attorney general to weigh in on the practice “because we had a couple of cities ask us to look into it. … They had some groups that were interested in what they called TNR — Trap-Neuter-Release.”

“If, for instance,” Selleck suggested, “you found a feral cat in the road, if you pick it up, had it neutered, and then wanted to release the cat, where would you release it that’s a reasonable place?”

“So, we wanted the AG opinion so we could get some legislative history and intent on what they meant by that so we could properly advise the cities,” the DA concluded.

Attorney General Paxton has six months to respond to the initial request from Brazoria County’s District Attorney’s Office, meaning that it could be April before a decision is made.

Ultimately, Paxton’s answer is not legally binding. Nevertheless, if Paxton determined such programs contradicted the law, “it could affect local government and animal control’s ability to do TNR or discourage individuals from caring for their local community cats,” animal group Alley Cat Allies suggested.

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