Animal Welfare

The Titus County Attorney Wants Texas Attorney General to Help Him in His Fight to Keep Bringing His Old Dachshund to Work

Titus County is a little spot on the far northeastern part of the map, comprising some 32,000 people total. Belle is a infirm, chocolate-colored, 16-year-old dachshund. She also lives in Titus, and it appears that she's made an enemy.

Belle's person is named John Mark Cobern; he also happens to be the county attorney for Titus. Five days ago, in a scandal that's apparently rocked the entire county, Belle was removed from Cobern's office, where she likes to hang out. Belle's removal was the result of a vote from the Titus County Commissioners, who decided to ban animals from inside the courthouse, where the county attorney's office is located, with the exception of trained service animals and those belonging to law enforcement. Now, Cobern is appealing to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for help.

Belle's been coming to work with Cobern for years, starting back when he was in private practice, according to the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune. He was elected to the county attorney position back in 2008, and Bell has occupied a corner of Cobern's first-floor office ever since. In a statement to the attorney general, Cobern writes that he brings Belle to work to provide "a safer work environment."

"My job responsibilities require me to interact with pro-se criminal defendants and parents whose parental rights may be terminated, among others," Cobern writes in his letter to Abbott. "This frequently results in having to interact with the mentally ill and potentially unstable individuals. These are the types of individuals who are prone to extreme acts of violence such as the mass shootings we have witnessed recently. It has been my experience that a dog's presence often can have a calming effect on these individuals. With the violence directed towards prosecutors, I feel that a dog's presence in my office makes my work environment safer." He adds that Belle (whom he doesn't name in the letter) has never bitten anyone, and that dachshunds aren't "known to be aggressive."

Belle's ouster from the courthouse seems to have begun with an anonymous complaint, which a county commissioner strenuously insists didn't come from him, no way. According to the Tribune, Commissioner Thomas Hockaday approached Cobern last week with word that someone had complained about Cobern keeping the dog in the office. Cobern told the paper that Hockaday "seemed pretty upset."

The very same day, the County Commissioners swiftly voted 4-1 to ban animals from the courthouse. In his letter to the attorney general, Cobern argues that they've overstepped their bounds: "[T]his implied authority granted to commissioners courts to exercise general control over the courthouse does not allow a commissioners court to intrude upon the domain of other independently elected officials." He cites a prior opinion from the attorney general's office which found that a commissioners court can't ban smoking in the office of an independently elected official, even if it's made the courthouse itself a smoke-free environment.

Cobern is requesting an opinion from Abbott's office on the matter, a process that could take several months. One other twist: Belle is dying of Cushing's Disease, a glandular disorder that often affects older dogs. And yet someone apparently doesn't want to let her live out her last days making Titus County a little bit safer. What a world.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan