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This Animal May End Up Changing the Law About When Texas Can Euthanize a Dog

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Homer Mojica, 83, was outside with his dog, Buddy, in the parking lot of his Northwest San Antonio apartment complex when they encountered two neighbors—a mother and her nine-year-old daughter. Buddy had never shown signs of aggression in the past, but this incident ended with the little girl suffering cuts and scratches on her face.

Those details are the only ones that aren’t in dispute in the case of Buddy the dog, a six-year-old golden retriever. All the rest—whether Mojica had the dog on a leash, whether the dog was provoked by the girl screaming in its face, and whether the girl’s wounds were caused by scratches from the dog’s paw or from bites—is in dispute. Mojica and a neighbor who witnessed the incident say that the dog was leashed and provoked, while the girl’s mother insists that it was an unprovoked attack. 

Ultimately, though, most of those details aren’t particularly relevant to Buddy’s fate, which can be decided by Texas’s Health and Safety Code, and its provisions for when and how an animal that attacks a person should be seized by the state and put down. 

Under current law, even a provoked dog kept on a leash can be euthanized if its attack results in “severe bodily injury,” which the statute defines as “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.” 

That very vague definition offers a lot of discretion—which isn’t subject to oversight—to local officials who hold the lives of people’s pets in their hands. In the case of Buddy, that meant that San Antonio judge Daniel Guerrero ordered the dog put down with minimal testimony, according to the San Antonio Express-News

The city provided no medical testimony on the girl’s injuries, relying solely on ACS investigator Jessica Travis, who never examined the girl and merely saw photos of her.

In fact, the blown-up, close-up photos of the girl’s face, taken after the Nov. 1 attack, were the stars of the city’s case. It’s worth noting, however, that the girl was also in the courtroom for Wednesday’s hearing, and she seemed in good spirits, with scars that were barely visible.

Mojica’s attorney, San Antonio animal rights lawyer Michelle Maloney, filed an emergency restraining order to prevent the dog from being euthanized in response to Judge Guerrero’s November order, which was granted. That restraining order expired on Tuesday, though, before the appeal filed by Maloney could be heard, according to MySA.com (which has done a terrific job of covering the case):

Tuesday’s hearing in the court of District Judge Cathleen Stryker was supposed to settle the question of whether the restraining order can be extended while Maloney appeals Guerrero’s decision.

But city attorneys challenged the jurisdiction of the hearing and attempted to have the temporary restraining order dissolved, which would have resulted in Buddy’s immediate death.

In the face of that possibility, Stryker extended the TRO for three more days, until a new hearing can settle the jurisdictional issue.

It was unclear why San Antonio city attorneys were so active in pushing to have the dog put down before its appeal could be heard, but as of this morning, it appears that they’ve backed down, and Buddy’s not at risk of euthanasia before the matter is settled in the courts. As MySA.com reports:

The city reached an agreement Friday morning with the attorneys for Buddy’s owners, promising that the dog would not be euthanized or harmed while the dog’s owners pursue an appeal of the Dec. decision to have the dog destroyed.

That’s good news for Mojica, Maloney, and the dog. But what’s coming next in this case suggests that the law under which Texas dogs can be seized and put down may be changing in any case. 

Right now, the “severe bodily injury” statute offers few exceptions: If your dog attacks someone, unless it’s a person over the age of eight years old who is trespassing on your property while the dog is in an enclosure, it’s probably subject to the same fate that Judge Guerrero ordered for Buddy. (Another exception is if the person the dog attacks is in the process of assaulting you; police dogs are also exempt.) There are no exceptions for dogs that are provoked or acting in their own defense. 

That’s something that, according to Maloney, needs to change. MySA.com explains that there’s a possibility that Buddy’s case could lead to a constitutional challenge of the “severe bodily injury” law. Dog lovers will probably balk at Maloney’s argument, which centers around dogs-as-property (and not furry bundles of love who are part of a person’s family), but it’s a challenge that needs to come: 

Maloney has become this city’s go-to attorney in animal-rights cases, and she’s challenging the constitutionality of the “serious bodily injury” provision in an effort to save Buddy from being euthanized.

In her Nov. 18 pretrial motion to Municipal Court 4 Judge Daniel Guerrero, Maloney argued that “pets are property in the eyes of the law” in Texas, and the “serious bodily injury” standard unfairly allows property to be taken from owners.

Guerrero disregarded the argument, but Maloney is gearing up for an appeal that has the potential to reach the Texas Supreme Court.

“The ‘serious bodily injury’ hearing is scary from a constitutional standpoint because it doesn’t explicitly have a right-of-appeal in it, which means a municipal-court judge can come in and rubber-stamp ACS’ actions,” Maloney said.

“If someone comes up and kicks your dog 20 times and your dog bites, the city can still take your dog away and euthanize them,” she added.

The ultimate fate of Buddy will be written as this case continues—which is an improvement from the dog’s situation as of yesterday, when it faced the real possibility of being put down before the legal fight to keep it alive was resolved. While no one wants dangerous dogs roaming the streets with impunity, it seems like a review process that kept courts from ordering animals destroyed when there are conflicting reports and questions about the severity of the injuries would be a prudent change.

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