Bill of the Week: House Bill 1800
Rep. Walle proposes bill to rein in dog attacks
House Bill 1800
Author: Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston
Filed: Feb. 23; heard in Urban Affairs: April 21
Dogs are supposed to be a person's best friend. But friendships break down, sometimes even turn violent. Like any friendship, it can be important not to overreact. Especially since, unlike humans, dogs can't call the cops.
Laying out his bill, Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, said it originated with residents near the Melrose Civic Club in his district, after the U.S. Postal Service warned them that they may suspend mail deliveries because there were so many stray dogs attacking their staff. Houston is the No. 1 city in America for dog attacks on postal staff, and Texas has six cities in the top 30, so this is a real problem. The state already has a legal definition of dangerous dogs: Walle's bill creates legal definitions of nuisance and aggressive dogs, as well as other best practices intended to reduce the risks of attack. It also adds in new microchipping language, so stray dogs that are not aggressive, but simply lost and scared, can be reunited with their owners faster. Houston has already adopted near-identical measures. Walle said, "Combined, these changes will allow local authorities more discretion to target aggressive or stray dogs before they escalate to dangerous levels."
However, speaking against the bill, Michael White, director of the Veterinary Public Health Division of Harris County, said the current laws "adequately address aggressive dogs." And he warned that these new definitions would be an unnecessary addition to already overburdened county staff, and would leave them chasing "barking and defecating dogs when they should be working on priority public health threats." Houston lawyer Zandra Anderson, who specializes in pet law, argues that the bill is so broadly termed that pretty much any dog can be classified as a nuisance. For example, where the bill says that a law officer may intervene when they think an animal might become a threat, she notes there is no actual definition of "aggressive disposition, so it can mean anything a police officer or animal control officer wants it to mean."
Walle (a dog owner himself) has said that his door is open to working with opponents of the bill, and a committee substitute is in the works.