El Paso animal advocates say a new Texas law banning chains or heavy weights as restraints on outdoor dogs is a step in the right direction, but enforcement will be critical.

The Safe Outdoor Dogs Act was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in October and goes into effect Tuesday, Jan. 18. A similar version of the bill was vetoed by Abbott in the summer, but the governor reversed course following public backlash that included a social media firestorm with the hashtag #Abbotthatesdogs.

The law bans the use of chains for tethering outside dogs and mandates basic needs such as shelter, shade and clean water. The law also requires dog owners to protect their pets from inclement weather, which includes rain, hail, sleet, snow, high winds, extreme low temperatures or extreme high temperatures, by providing shelter.

Violations of the law are a class C misdemeanor, which can be enforced with a citation punishable by up to a $500 fine.

“To me, it’s not good enough,” said Animal Rescue League of El Paso founder Loretta Hyde. “If you don’t have enforcement it doesn’t matter how many laws you have. If you’re not going to enforce them, what good does it do?”

El Paso police spokesperson Sgt. Enrique Carrillo said in an emailed statement that officers receive training updates on all new laws that have taken effect or will in the near future.

“The department already has a unit the investigates animal cruelty cases,” Carrillo said.

El Paso County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ryan Urrutia said the county has an animal control unit and an animal welfare department to respond to calls about animal cruelty. Urrutia said calls would initially go to the animal welfare department, but deputies would respond if no one from the welfare department is available.

Urrutia said with the change in law, deputies will be able to cite for an offense, or give an initial warning.

“I really think we need to educate our community as we work through this (new law),” Urrutia said.

The sheriff’s animal control unit will be responsible for enforcing a new state law on chaining dogs in rural areas of El Paso County. (Photo courtesy of El Paso County Sheriff’s Office)

He also said he is not sure if deputies will drive through the unincorporated areas of the county to look for infractions because there are a lot of chained dogs.

“If you really looked at it could really overwhelm us,” Urrutia said, adding he hopes that public service announcements and education will help to change the way dog owners secure their pets.

He said it is possible that deputies will warn dog owners who are in violation and then cite them if they do not make adequate changes.

Eric Boehm, executive director of the El Paso Veterinary Medical Association, said he thinks education and resources for pet owners to change how they secure their pets are crucial.

“We’re approaching it from that standpoint rather than from a punitive kind of standpoint,” Boehm said.

He said while he thinks the new law is a step in the right direction, he is concerned that dog owners will release their animals and let them go stray rather than make the necessary changes to be in compliance with the law.

Hyde said one of the concerns with dogs that have been chained their whole lives is that they may not be socialized or may not have received basic medical care such as vaccines or spay and neuter procedures, which could make them difficult to adopt.

“It’s like putting a Band-aid on the problem until people have fences that can hold their dogs in and be safe, or you’re responsible enough to keep them inside when you leave so that they don’t jump the fence,” Hyde said. “(The law) is a step in the right direction, but it’s not a solution. It’s not the answer.”

Cover photo: Kiba, a 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix, likes to play catch in a neighborhood park in East El Paso. (Brandy Ruiz/El Paso Matters)

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper...