Animal Well-Fair educates citizens and attorneys alike

The Austin Bar Association’s Animal Law Section wants the public to know how to support animal welfare organizations throughout Central Texas. So, tomorrow, June 9, the section is holding its third annual Animal Well-Fair to serve as an information clearinghouse for concerned citizens. The event takes place at noon at the Northwest Recreation Center (2913 Northland Drive).

Approximately a dozen animal organizations—such as Austin Pets Alive!, Austin Wildlife Rescue, and the Texas Humane Legislation Network—have been invited to educate attendees on what their groups do and how the public can help them in achieving their missions. Representatives will then be available to answer questions and have conversations about becoming involved as a volunteer, foster, or donor. Animals will be available for adoption outside the building.

“We are often asked by our colleagues or by members of the public how they can help animals—which group should they work with and how can they make the biggest impact for our community’s neediest animals,” said Kelley Dwyer, chair of the ABA’s Animal Law Section. She noted that the well-fair enables attendees to visit with many groups under one roof.

The recent flooding in the Central Texas and Hill Country regions has made the work that these organizations do even more important, and the Austin Bar’s Animal Law Section will be collecting pet supply donations to help them during this time of increased need. Dwyer said that some of the organizations are so overwhelmed with the influx of displaced animals that they will not be able to attend the event as originally planned. “This time of year is routinely the busiest time for animal shelters, between owner surrenders and kitten season, and the floods have made things even more challenging,” she said. “The community's outpouring of concern and help for our animal welfare organizations has been amazing thus far, but more help is needed.”

While the Animal Well-Fair is geared toward informing the general public—attorneys and non-attorneys alike—Dwyer said that lawyers stand to gain much from attending the event and becoming more involved. “The animal welfare organizations are the ‘boots on the ground’ for animal welfare,” she said. “They unfortunately witness cruelty and neglect firsthand and are able to offer valuable information to lawmakers and policymakers about potential changes or improvements in existing laws or policies. Attorneys can be especially valuable in helping animal welfare organizations avoid liability and keep their nonprofit organizations compliant with relevant laws. And our legal education makes us especially helpful in advising citizens about the ways they can help animal welfare organizations make our world a more humane place for our animal companions.”

Vehicle used as deadly weapon in animal cruelty case; jury sentences defendant to five-year prison term

Fifteen months after being dragged behind an SUV and left on the roadside bloody and injured, the donkey named Susie Q has fully recovered. Her abuser, on the other hand, was just sentenced by a Montgomery County jury to five years in prison—one of the longest prison sentences ever given to a defendant in an animal cruelty case in Texas.

Prosecutor Rob Freyer argued that defendant Marc Richard Saunders, 30, of the southeastern Texas town of Splendora, used his vehicle as a deadly weapon against Susie Q. On Jan. 15, the jury agreed—elevating the crime to a third-degree felony and increasing the maximum possible prison time from two years to up to 10 years.

“In this case, since the deadly weapon definition does not limit death or injury to a person, there is no restriction by which it could not be used to enhance any criminal offense,” said Donald Feare, a civil litigator in Arlington and council member of the State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section. “By opening up a much greater range of punishment, that deterrence becomes even greater and sends a message that the people of the State of Texas are no longer looking at such [animal] cruelty as something less than an important crime to be stopped.”

Feare noted that he believes this is the first time a vehicle has been used as a deadly weapon in an animal cruelty case in Texas. Though uncommon in Texas, other objects have been ruled as deadly weapons in animal cruelty cases. Knives and box cutters were ruled as deadly weapons in the killing of several kittens and, in a separate case, a hammer was ruled as a deadly weapon against a cat. In August 2013, a judge found that fire was used as a deadly weapon against a dog; one of the abusers received five years in prison—possibly the only animal cruelty case other than the Saunders case to receive such a long sentence.

“This [deadly weapon] enhancement is a direct example of how seriously such cruelty will be treated,” said Feare. “It does not add to the elements of the crime, only the punishment. It has been so with assaults on humans and is now being applied to cruelty as well.”  

Saunders has not indicated if he will appeal. Law enforcement officials revealed to local media outlets that he tested positive for methamphetamines the day after the crime. 

This Month in the Texas Bar Journal

This month, the Texas Bar Journal looks at the different aspects of animal law and how it has evolved. In addition, you will find an update on the State Bar's Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans program since its launch last year.