By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Queso the cat, known to lap up cheese outside a Taco Cabana in Waco, was well known to students at Baylor University. The scrawny stray later went on to gain national attention when two students brutally killed it, then got off scot-free.
Texas has some of the weakest animal protection laws in the nation, according to a first-of-its-kind survey released in February by the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund. The fund used 30 different criteria to measure how states compare. Texas ranked in the bottom tier.
"The laws in Texas have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through," agrees state Representative Toby Goodman, a Republican from Arlington and longtime animal-rights proponent who has successfully sponsored bills to outlaw horse tripping and canned hunts.
For instance, say Goodman and other statewide advocates, Texas law defines an animal as a "domestic living creature." As a result, abusers can successfully argue that a stray cat or dog is not an animal.
This defense was employed five years ago in the Queso case, in which two Baylor baseball players shot the cat with a pellet gun, beat it in the head with a golf club, decapitated and skinned it. Both young men were acquitted since no one had proper ownership papers for Queso.
Also, according to Texas law, it is illegal to kill an animal "belonging to another." But the law says nothing about killing your own animal.
Therefore, law enforcement could not successfully prosecute a Brazoria County man who drowned two puppies in a bucket because he was mad at his girlfriend, a Bell County man who rode over his puppy with a lawn mower because its barking irritated him and countless other similar cases.
And while it is illegal to cause one animal to fight with another, in Texas it is perfectly OK to train or condition animals for fighting.
"I know of at least 25 locations in Houston where roosters are raised for fighting," says Mark Timmers, a Harris County Precinct 6 investigator. "But I have to catch them in the act of fighting the animal to make a case--and that's not easy."
In the last legislative session, dozens of district and county attorneys and police chiefs from across the state rallied behind legislation written by Goodman that intended to address these issues. But House Bill 326 died in committee, along with a separate bill sponsored by state Representative Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, which would have strengthened penalties against dog fighting and make it illegal to organize or attend cockfights.
In other states across the South, lawmakers have used the controversy surrounding hog-dog rodeos--in which dogs and feral hogs are pitted against each other in a pen--to close the loopholes in their own animal cruelty laws. The Texas Legislature has not considered the issue for many years.
Even after the negative publicity spawned by Queso's death, there are still many ways to torture animals in Texas and get away with it.