Animal Control killed our pets, what steps to take to make sure this doesnt happen to others
November 19, 2009 5:08 AM   Subscribe

What can we do to keep this from happening again? Round Rock Texas Animal Control killed our dogs for barking and growling. The AC officer acted as Judge, Jury and Executioner .. All within two hours.

Boomer was about 3 years old. He was part pit bull, part who knows, black with a white chest and paws. I had went with my daughter when she went and picked him up from Pet Smart. He was a pound dog, adopted through Paw Match, and had spent the day in a small corral in front of Pet Smart, waiting for someone to pick him out. He tore our house to shreds, and Pookie, our Lab/Beagle mix hated him, but he was a loving dog. He had been through obedience school (and passed!) and never met a person he didn't like. Coming home, he would throw his paw on your chest until you had bent over to get a kiss.
Dart was about 2. My daughter had decided that Boomer needed a friend, so Dart entered our life. He was the goofiest dog in the world. He wasn't very smart, but he loved everybody. He would push Boomer out of the way any time he felt he wasn't getting enough attention, and force himself under your petting hand. Where Boomer chewed up furniture and carpet when he was a puppy, Dart just got into the trash and spread it everywhere. I've got a picture of Dart somewhere, I came home from work and he was sitting on the coffee table, trash completely surrounding it and he looked like the king of refuse.
My daughter moved out and bought her own home, and Boomer and Dart left my house to go with her. Today, they knocked a hole in the back fence, and the neighbor whose yard they gotten into called animal control. The animal control officer says that Dart rushed at her when she went into the back yard. This dog that I've never seen growl, EVER, charged an animal control officer. I don't know what happened, but I almost bet he was running to her to play. The animal control officer then hit the dog with a baton. Boomer is Dart's friend and protector. He 'circled' the animal control officer and showed his teeth. My daughter got the dogs back into her yard and into the house. I don't even know if she knew what had happened.
Just to be clear, The dogs never bit or attacked the officer.
The animal control officer called a police officer to assist her the vicious dogs. They knocked on her door and told her she could either surrender the dogs to be put down, or she would be fined $500.00 a day, per dog, until they were out of the city. At this point my daughter had been awake for 23 hours due to her work schedule and her baby. She asked if she could keep them until her husband got home, they told her no, surrender the dogs now or the fines started immediately. She did not have the money, so she took the dogs out. On the way to the truck, the cop actually pulled a gun on the dogs!
At this point, she started calling everyone, my wife, her husband, trying to figure out what to do. My wife called animal control, we were going to get them out of town, we were going to do whatever we needed to get our babies out of there. My son-in-law left work and headed for the animal control office to get them out of there. This all happened at 2:45, at 4:20 animal control called my wife back, and while pleading for their lives, was told that they had already been put down. In less than 2 hours, our friends, our family, were killed, with no appeal process, no burden of proof.
These dogs were loving, caring, beautiful and most of all friendly.
Our friends are dead, but, we do not want this to happen again, tomorrow, we start our crusade against the Round Rock Texas animal control office. This will not happen again, we will make sure of it.
How can we change the procedures that they follow, what can we do to get the law changed that there has to be SOME type of time limit, cooling off period, some appeal process.. they murdered our cherished pets.
posted by Relly70 to Pets & Animals (41 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Despite not knowing anything about animal control laws in Round Rock, TX, I'm quite certain there's a possible lawsuit here. Such unreasonable and rash judgment often sprouts lawsuits. IANAL. I'm sorry for loss. At the very least, consult with a lawyer in your area to see if litigation is plausible, and what it may take to change the relevant law(s).
posted by at 5:24 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

So sorry to have this happen to your family. Your best bet is to consult a lawyer, who may or may not advise you to get the media involved. In the meantime you should contact one of the mods to have this question deleted because if you do get into a lawsuit, the other side will find a way to use the words you've written against you.
posted by mikepop at 5:29 AM on November 19, 2009 [11 favorites]

What can we do to keep this from happening again?

Never hand your dogs over to anyone. You wouldn't give them your kids, would you? Also, check up on the city's animial control ordinance, and make sure they didn't violate the law. If they did, sue.

I once had a dog actually jump through the open window of an animal control truck into the driver's lap. No one ended up getting shot in that case, so it seems like your animal control people may well have been out of line.
posted by dortmunder at 5:29 AM on November 19, 2009

I'm so so sorry for your loss.

If you don't want to pursue a lawsuit and you don't mind attention, you may want to consider contacting your local news station. Your story is sure to spark some public outrage in your community. (I'm certainly outraged, and I'm nowhere near your community.) Maybe that will bring about some changes?
posted by ferociouskitty at 5:32 AM on November 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

That's really abhorrent -- my condolences. Get a lawyer.
posted by wrok at 5:38 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry. This is a terrible thing to go through.

You need to document what happened, as clinically as possible. Times, any names you know of the people involved, addresses etc. It's going to be a struggle to keep the emotion out of it, but you need something that is as objective as possible.

Request the reports filed by Animal Control and the Police to include in your documentation. Request, in writing, all the applicable AC policies.

Ideally, your next step is to find a city council member who will meet with you to discuss, assuming the city operates the animal control. You may also be able to meet with a police ombudsman. Gather as much information as you can on the existing policies and what steps need to be taken to change them (or enforce compliance, if they went against policy). Document all those meetings. See if you can find some local animal groups with good relationships with the city to help back you up.

Resist the urge to go to the media, or threaten to, unless you are absolutely certain you're being stonewalled, because at that point bridges are going to be burned.

I would not start talking to people until you can truthfully say, "What happened to my family was very painful, but I want to help make the process better, not punish anyone." (Now, someone may get punished if they failed to follow procedure. This is not your business.) You don't have to have a special degree to run or work at animal control, they're probably overwhelmed by dumped animals these days, police see a lot of bad dogs (and hurt/sick/mistreated dogs, which can be legitimately dangerous) and tend to jump to conclusions - you need to be able to make your approach with some sympathy or nobody's going to meet you partway.

Good luck. I hope you can make something good come out of this.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:41 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but this seems pretty clear:

§ 822.041. Definitions

In this subchapter:

(1) "Animal control authority" means a municipal or county animal control office with authority over the area where the dog is kept or a county sheriff in an area with no animal control office.

(2) "Dangerous dog" means a dog that:

(A) makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury and occurs in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own; or

(B) commits unprovoked acts in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person.

(3) "Dog" means a domesticated animal that is a member of the canine family.

(4) "Secure enclosure" means a fenced area or structure that is:

(A) locked;

(B) capable of preventing the entry of the general public, including children;

(C) capable of preventing the escape or release of a dog;

(D) clearly marked as containing a dangerous dog; and

(E) in conformance with the requirements for enclosures established by the local animal control authority.

(5) "Owner" means a person who owns or has custody or control of the dog.


Added by Acts 1991, 72nd Leg., ch. 916, § 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1991.

§ 822.042. Requirements for Owner of Dangerous Dog

(a) Not later than the 30th day after a person learns that the person is the owner of a dangerous dog, the person shall:

(1) register the dangerous dog with the animal control authority for the area in which the dog is kept;

(2) restrain the dangerous dog at all times on a leash in the immediate control of a person or in a secure enclosure;

(3) obtain liability insurance coverage or show financial responsibility in an amount of at least $100,000 to cover damages resulting from an attack by the dangerous dog causing bodily injury to a person and provide proof of the required liability insurance coverage or financial responsibility to the animal control authority for the area in which the dog is kept; and

(4) comply with an applicable municipal or county regulation, requirement, or restriction on dangerous dogs.

(b) The owner of a dangerous dog who does not comply with Subsection (a) shall deliver the dog to the animal control authority not later than the 30th day after the owner learns that the dog is a dangerous dog.

(c) If, on application of any person, a justice court, county court, or municipal court finds, after notice and hearing as provided by Section 822.0423, that the owner of a dangerous dog has failed to comply with Subsection (a) or (b), the court shall order the animal control authority to seize the dog and shall issue a warrant authorizing the seizure. The authority shall seize the dog or order its seizure and shall provide for the impoundment of the dog in secure and humane conditions.

(d) The owner shall pay any cost or fee assessed by the municipality or county related to the seizure, acceptance, impoundment, or destruction of the dog. The governing body of the municipality or county may prescribe the amount of the fees.

(e) The court shall order the animal control authority to humanely destroy the dog if the owner has not complied with Subsection (a) before the 11th day after the date on which the dog is seized or delivered to the authority. The court shall order the authority to return the dog to the owner if the owner complies with Subsection (a) before the 11th day after the date on which the dog is seized or delivered to the authority.

(f) The court may order the humane destruction of a dog if the owner of the dog has not been located before the 15th day after the seizure and impoundment of the dog.

(g) For purposes of this section, a person learns that the person is the owner of a dangerous dog when:

(1) the owner knows of an attack described in Section 822.041(2)(A) or (B);

(2) the owner receives notice that a justice court, county court, or municipal court has found that the dog is a dangerous dog under Section 822.0423; or

(3) the owner is informed by the animal control authority that the dog is a dangerous dog under Section 822.0421.

Sounds to me like this would be a field day for a halfway competent lawyer.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:46 AM on November 19, 2009 [23 favorites]

posted by cp7 at 6:01 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

This sounds horrible and you have my condolences. I can't imagine how I would feel if the authorities did this to my dog.

That said, you should consider these things before spending a lot of effort pursuing the matter:
  1. Police lie all the time to get people to give up their rights. They are seldom punished for it. It is considered to be part of their job. As you are probably aware, in Williamson County, the police are notorious for taking a hard line and people like it. I wouldn't have believed the claim about $500/day in fines.
  2. It is easy to see how an animal control officer and police officer would spin the events mentioned above into this story: they were confronted with dangerous and uncontrollable dogs, including a pit-bull-type dog (the breed people love to hate). They asked the owner for consent to euthanize the dogs and the owner agreed. Since there is a moral panic about pit bulls (perhaps justified as a large proportion of the small number of annual dog bite-related fatalities are from these sorts of dogs), people will be inclined to believe this story.
  3. I don't think the emphasized bits of the statute Pater Alethias cites are relevant because your daughter gave consent for the dog to be put down. I know it doesn't seem that way but that's the way it will be spun. Therefore no court order was necessary. Just like they don't need your consent to search your house after you agreed to it, even if they lied to you to get you to agree to it.
But yes, you should talk to a lawyer and a council member. Just don't be surprised if people believe the story put forward by the animal control officer and the independent police officer instead of your own, and if the lawyer says you have no case. (But hey, maybe the lawyer will say you have a great case.)

How to keep this from happening in the future?
  1. Don't have pit bulls. Animal control people are scared of them. They don't want to become a statistic.
  2. Don't give your dogs up without a warrant.
  3. If your dogs are requested without warrant, talk to a lawyer then.

posted by grouse at 6:16 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a lawyer. I would also call your local media.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:18 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Here is a link to the State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section. There are links to further resources for pet owners.
posted by motsque at 6:23 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dog-proof the fence. Familiarise the neighbours with the dogs. Get them to call you or your daughter rather than animal control if there's a problem.
posted by hawthorne at 6:27 AM on November 19, 2009

I'd be devastated. My knee jerk reaction is to call the media, but call a lawyer first.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:35 AM on November 19, 2009

Regardless of whether the dogs were pit mixes, it sounds to me from your account that the animal control officer and the police officer attempted to and were successful in intimidating your exhausted daughter who was home alone with two dogs and a baby. She was pressured into giving up the dogs, pressured into it, it seems, by the officer lying, and that is NOT OKAY.

It's okay for a cop to lie to you in interrogation. I am pretty sure it's not okay for an officer to lie to you in this situation. And even if it's a gray area, you can (and I hate to say this but I will because they killed your dogs and I'd play every card I had) capitalize on the fact that these (I assume) men took advantage of a woman in this situation.

Lawyer. Lawyer. Lawyer.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:40 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I almost bet he was running to her to play.

I knew a pit mix who was exactly like this--she'd run toward you and, if you didn't know her, you might think "this dog is going to kill me," but really she just wanted to give kisses and play with you. My reaction to that dog, if she got loose, would be much different from that of someone who didn't know her. So, I agree with the suggestion upthread to make sure if you have any pit bulls or mixes in the future that you spend some time introducing them to neighbors.

I also agree with consulting a lawyer before you go to the media or do anything else in response to this. You've been through a wrenching emotional experience and need an objective, unemotional evaluation of your situation before you can make the best choices as to next steps.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2009

Follow everyone's good advice above, try to make sure this will not happen to someone else's beloved pets and family members, and then move. Fuck Williamson County. They don't deserve your tax dollars.

I'm so very sorry for your loss. This must be an awful shock -- both the loss of your dogs and your betrayal by a system that should be protecting you and your rights.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:24 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I have friends who adopted a blue pit bull, and she'll also charge you when she's excited and wants to play.

And fuck Williamson County. They definitely take an extremely hard line, unless you're the police chief's daughter.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like the animal control people were out of line, and you should see a lawyer. Their response is likely to be, as grouse says, that your daughter "consented" to euthanization without a warrant when she handed over the dogs, but a lawyer who works in this area will probably have an idea how successful you'd be against that argument.

I'd like to add a slightly against-the-grain note here, though, which is that charging people and putting paws on chests is dominating behavior, even if the dog just wants kisses or pets or play time. So in addition to introducing the dogs to your neighbors, another step toward avoiding this kind of misunderstanding in the future would be to train the dogs better. They shouldn't be using that kind of dominating behavior with their owners, or with neighbors in the neighbors' yards.
posted by palliser at 8:05 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is so sad, but I bet you'll get a lot more traction out of media and elected officials than lawyer. I don't know the laws in Texas, and encourage you to try to get a consultation with an attorney. But I know in my state a pet is chattel, like a television or an ipod, meaning the most one could get out of a lawsuit is the dollar value. For mutts, that's not much. A Texas lawyer would be able to tell you the laws of the state.

There's also the fact that the animal control people can probably tell a pretty convincing story about apparently aggressive dogs. They don't know the dog just wants to play, but they do know that one ran at them and the other circled them and bared his teeth. Also, they pressured your daughter by mentioning the fines, but that's almost certainly not illegal in any way. They were alerting her to the repercussions of not surrendering the dogs. The fact that she couldn't afford those repercussions really is neither here nr there (like that saying that in this country, rich and poor have the same right to sleep under a bridge).

I'm not excusing what they did, just want to counter all the pro-lawsuit comments here. I think you're more likely to get somewhere with media (crying lady with pictures of cute dogs) than in a cold, heartless court of law. And by all means contact elected officials. I'm so sorry this happened to you and your family. I hope you're able to get something done about it.
posted by Mavri at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2009

I just sent you a MeMail with the number of an attorney who should be able to help you, if you decide to go that route.

Williamson County gets away with too much inexcusable bullshit. Personally, I'd rather they didn't get away with this.
posted by MuChao at 8:44 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry this happened to your family.

I vote for trying to get media attention. Maybe you could also create a blog (using something like Blogspot), detailing exactly what happened and naming the officers who did this to your dogs. Tell the truth and possibly follow up with something like, "This is my opinion" to protect yourself from a libel suit.

People should be warned about the animal control officer and the police officer. An animal control officer should be better trained to handle animals. He/she should understand animals and be able to tell the difference between a viscious dog and a friendly dog.

I think the animal control officers need to be much better trained. It sounds like this person was not trained at all and did not love animals, not the type of person who should be an animal control officer.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:15 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get a lawyer. Contact the media. This story is so sad and disgusting. Reminds me of the Smoak Family, who saw a Tennessee Highway Patrolman kill their dog, General Patton, during a traffic stop. They eventually won a hefty settlement (though that will never bring back Patton nor erase the images they witnessed that horrible night) and the THP was ordered to undergo specialized training by the Humane Society. I wish you and your family the best of luck in getting some justice. This isn't your fault for owning a pit bull; this is a case of poorly trained Animal Control officials and the best way to prevent it from happening again is to publicize it as much as possible.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2009

IAAL (but not your lawyer).

I would talk to a Texas lawyer, but don't expect to get anything out of it. Sounds to me like your daughter gave consent to put the dogs down. Call the local TV station.

In the future, don't allow the police or any other authority figure onto your property without a warrant.

Also, consider moving.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:32 AM on November 19, 2009

I am also so, so sorry this happened to your family, and am incredibly angry at the animal control officer and police involved. It sounds like murder. You should absolutely go after them with lawyers. You deserve a TON of compensation.

However, I really agree with mikepop and palliser. Unfortunately, the picture you paint of the dogs (though incredibly loveable) is that they were not perfectly trained and possibly exhibited dominant behaviour. You should get a mod to delete or anonymize this question in case this could be used against you.
posted by emyd at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2009

Well that sucks.

IAAL, though IANYL (nor a Texas lawyer), but... you may be kind of screwed here. I hate to discourage you from getting a lawyer, but I think T.D. Strange is probably right. This is worth an initial consultation certainly, but it doesn't sound to me like you've got much of a chance of winning anything that would significantly exceed the cost of prosecuting the case. He's also right in that the way to fight this is by not letting law enforcement personnel, even (and perhaps especially) the dogcatcher, without a warrant. emyd and the others who suggest this is a big-ticket tort case might well be wrong.

The problem here is that though there may have been a violation of the constitutional protections for property, family pets are not considered to have much in the way of monetary value, which is the only real hook for litigation here. Governments aren't generally subject to actions for emotional distress, and in the absense of any basis for monetary compensation, the legally-cognizable harm here is pretty minimal. Which sucks.

Also, though Pater Alethias cites to the Texas state statute which would seem to be relevant, it's entirely possible that the county or other local government has less generous ordinances on the books.

The way to fight this is through the media and the political process. That's one of the benefits of a society with free presses and representative governments: if you don't like a law or official procedure you can try to get it changed.
posted by valkyryn at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2009

I sent a tip via Twitter to the Statesman with a link to this post.
posted by Addlepated at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: Valkyryn - Thank you for your post. This is what we were believing. That we dont want money, we want the laws changed to protect pets and owners who are under duress made to sign documents that gave them the right to kill the dogs.

I would like to see a mandatory stay of execution for atleast 24 hours after having a duressed hysterical person signing a piece of paper.

My daughter has no copy of the paper, the police have no incident on file.. The dogs had no complaints against them, they didnt bite anyone. but within two hours of the AC showing up they were dead.

I dont want ONE person deciding if a pet should live or die. The AC officer was ONE person who decided alone that our pets were dangerous in a 10 minute altercation. I want laws that say that cant happen, that the dog has a right to be seen and tested by other parties before being put down.

Honestly we just want our dogs back. :(
posted by Relly70 at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2009

You may also want to contact Radley Balko at The Agitator, who follows these acts of "Puppycide" regularly. He may have some recommendations because of his familiarity of the issues.
posted by FuManchu at 1:26 PM on November 19, 2009

Call your City Councilor, call the ASPCA and anybody else who cares about animals. You do have the power to get these stupid, heartless regulations changed. Ho awful for you and your family. Please try to make sure this gets stopped.
posted by theora55 at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: KXAN Austin Tx news is running a piece on the dogs tonight at 10. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe something positive will come of this tragedy.
posted by Relly70 at 6:45 PM on November 19, 2009

I hope 'positive' means all those concerned lose their fucking jobs on Christmas Eve.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:01 PM on November 19, 2009

The KXAN piece just aired. Animal Control got the 'last word' in the report.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:07 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: yes, but does anyone find any satisfaction in his statement? It was a honest compassionate piece, and the pictures tell a story of love and happiness. I am proud of my daughter. I hope others will help us get the ordinance and laws changed.
posted by Relly70 at 7:14 PM on November 19, 2009

Is the segment online somewhere?
posted by grouse at 7:28 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster: not yet, but probably after 10. We just got to see a live feed online that aired at 9.
posted by Relly70 at 7:33 PM on November 19, 2009

Response by poster:

here is the youtube video we taped off the tv
posted by Relly70 at 9:16 PM on November 19, 2009

KXAN also has a text story up that is almost identical to the video.
posted by grouse at 9:31 PM on November 19, 2009

You shouldn't sue for money, you should sue to stop this from happening again. Lawsuits are pretty much your only weapon. It is considered cruel and unusual punishment to separate a pet from its owner. I'm pretty sure the cops acted wrongly in this case. I would think at least they would have to call you before killing the dogs, and certainly give you a choice, not 500 now or else. This sounds crazy to me. As a fellow owner of a pit mix who is the sweetest dog in the world and would never hurt a fly, please sue the crap out of these people.
posted by xammerboy at 10:00 PM on November 19, 2009

Nthing Fuck Wilco.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They have now an interm policy in place until it can be changed. There is now a 24 hour cooling off period they have to keep the dogs before euthanizing.
posted by Relly70 at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

That just sounds sensible- which is a big victory for you and your pups. Cooling off periods are great for combating power in the moment.
posted by hawthorne at 5:42 AM on December 2, 2009

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