This phrase from The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things” will bring you no comfort when the local Animal Control Officer comes knocking at your door demanding you turn over your pooch (or cat or ferret) to him for quarantine because your furry companion bit someone. What you may be surprised to know is what little recourse one has at that moment to free your dog (or cat) from the dog-catcher’s clutches.
Texas law in this area is not designed to afford the dog or his owner any procedural or substantive due process rights. It is designed to summarily deal with a perceived public health threat, regardless of how minor the wound suffered by the bitee. The scope of this article is limited to the situation where the injury to the bitee does not qualify as “serious bodily injury” (defined as “an injury characterized by severe bite wounds or severe ripping and tearing of muscle that would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek treatment from a medical professional and would require hospitalization without regard to whether the person actually sought medical treatment.”) or death.
The laws dealing with domesticated dogs, cats and ferrets, can be found in the Texas Health and Safety Code and the Texas Administrative Code. Your city or town will likely also have some ordinances concerning these same topics. All must be considered when, as the dog’s owner, your pet is seized.
Here is a brief summary of the pertinent portions of those statutes and Code sections:
First, all persons having knowledge of a potential rabies exposure to a human are required to report the incident to the local “Rabies Control Authority” (which could be the local Sheriff) as soon as possible after the incident. This is how law enforcement gets involved if the bitee seeks treatment at the hospital ER. A “potential exposure” is defined as “an incident in which an animal has bitten a human OR in which there is probable cause to believe that an animal has otherwise exposed a human to rabies.”
Second, the law states that “When a dog, cat, or domestic ferret that has bitten a human has been identified, the custodian will place the animal (regardless of vaccination status) in quarantine (meaning “strict confinement of an animal on the private premises of the animal’s owner or at a facility approved by the Texas Board of Health and under restraint by closed cage or paddock or in any other manner approved by rule of the Texas Board of Health.”) until the end of the ten-day observation period. The observation period will begin at the time of the exposure. The animal must be placed in a department-licensed quarantine facility specified by the local “Rabies Control Authority” (hereinafter, “RCA”) and observed at least twice daily. However, the RCA may allow the animal to be quarantined in a veterinary clinic. As an alternative to quarantine at a department-licensed facility or a veterinary clinic, the RCA may allow home confinement. To allow home confinement, the following criteria must be met:
- A secure enclosure approved by the RCA must be used to prevent escape.
- The animal has been vaccinated against rabies and the time elapsed since the most recent vaccination has not exceeded the manufacturer’s recommendations for the vaccine. If an unvaccinated animal is not over 16 weeks of age at the time of the potential exposure, it may be allowed home confinement.
- During the confinement period, the animal’s custodian must monitor the animal’s behavior and health status and immediately notify the RCA if any change is noted.
- The RCA or a veterinarian must observe the animal at least on the first and last days of the home confinement.
- The animal was not a stray (meaning “roaming with no physical restraint beyond the premises of an animal’s owner or keeper”).
Third, if the animal shows no evidence of having rabies, it will be released at the end of the quarantine period to its owner if the owner has an unexpired rabies vaccination certificate for the animal, or the animal is vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian at the owner’s expense. If the animal does show evidence of rabies, it will be humanely euthanized and a suitable sample of its brain will be submitted to a lab for rabies testing. The owner of an animal that is quarantined shall pay to the veterinarian or local RCA the reasonable costs of the quarantine and disposition of the animal. The veterinarian or local RCA may bring suit to collect those costs.
There is no provision in the Texas Administrative Code for any appeal of the seizure of your pet in the above non-serious bodily injury or non-death situation.
If the bitee’s injuries do fall into either of the latter two categories, more serious consequences, including criminal liability, may ensue. That scenario will be considered in another blog article.