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May 17 — When Katie Jarl started her job as the Texas state director for the Humane Society of the U.S., she received calls on a monthly basis from law enforcement and animal cruelty officers about bestiality cases. They asked whether they could arrest individuals for animal cruelty and how they could remove the animals from the home, she said.
Jarl was forced to tell them they couldn't do anything because bestiality is still legal in the state of Texas.
“The problem is we simply don't have a law,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “When something’s not illegal, it’s a problem for law enforcement.”
Texas is one of nine states and the District of Columbia whose criminal codes do not include an enforceable bestiality statute.
This story is the final installment in a series examining the legal landscape of bestiality statutes in America and how it affects enforcement (Part I: 99 CrL 100, 4/27/16; Part II: 99 CrL 126, 5/4/16; Part III: 99 CrL 162, 5/11/16).
Unless someone sexually assaults an animal in public so officers could charge him or her with public lewdness, Jarl said there is no way to prevent people from engaging in bestiality—a behavior she and other advocates say often escalates into crimes against humans.
“Animals are often the gateway to abusing children, women, and other human beings,” she said.
Prosecutor Jessica Milligan agreed. Milligan heads the animal cruelty division for the District Attorney's Office of Harris County, Texas.
Violence against animals and humans typically arise in a domestic violence context, but Milligan told Bloomberg BNA that she has seen more sinister cases.
Milligan is the prosecutor handling the most recent—and public—bestiality case to hit Houston.
According to media reports, Arthur Lovell publicly stabbed his dog to death on March 10 at the mechanic shop where he worked.
His coworkers said they were not surprised when Lovell confessed to sexually assaulting his dogs based on how they had seen him touch his dogs in the past, but none of them intervened because they were afraid of him. They saw him cut someone with a knife after he questioned how Lovell touched his dog.
Jarl said the case highlights the correlation between violence against animals and humans in addition to the need for a bestiality statute in Texas. Lovell faces a felony charge for killing his dog, but will not suffer any consequences for his confessed bestiality offenses.
In addition to advocating for harsher animal cruelty laws, Jarl travels the state to train animal rescuers, prosecutors and animal cruelty and law enforcement officers on enforcing animal cruelty laws.
She said all of them confronted her about bestiality cases, including police receiving tips from civilians who saw their neighbors sexually assaulting pets and animal rescues having to give runaway pets back to owners when there are physical signs of sexual abuse.
“Right now they aren’t considered criminals,” Jarl said. “They’re allowed to do this legally.”
Now that those working in the system know bestiality is not a codified offense, Jarl said they have started calling her to ask what they can do to get a law on the books. Jarl said she's working on that.
Because the Texas legislature only meets every two years, Jarl said she has started working with legislators to draft language that will hopefully result in presenting a bestiality ban in 2017. She said most of the lawmakers she spoke to are surprised it is not already a law.
“I never thought I would have to convince anyone that bestiality should be illegal,” she said.
So far, Jarl said she has not heard any opposition from the agricultural industry, but said she didn't find that unusual.
“[Bestiality] would be a blight on their industry as well,” she said.
Milligan said she never received any backlash from the agricultural industry for her pursuit of these cases, but said it could be attributed to unawareness on the part of the industry.
The Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Department of Agriculture did not respond to Bloomberg BNA's requests for comment for this story. Yet the agricultural industry in states vying for a bestiality ban like New Hampshire expressed concern over language that accidentally outlaws accepted farming practices (99 CrL 126, 5/4/16).
Meanwhile, Milligan said prosecutors around Texas are receiving calls from lawmakers about what kind of statutory language would best enable them to effectively prosecute bestiality cases.
Milligan said she would like a law that allows her to prosecute bestiality happening in private using the kind of documentation that she currently can't use in court, such as videos or eye witness testimony.
Until then, Milligan said she's forced to get creative when she wants to prosecute people for bestiality. Using the public lewdness statute is one example, but Milligan said prosecutors need to know the legislative loopholes, such as the health and safety codes that protect animals.
Education is another tool for enforcement, she added. Harris County includes police and animal cruelty officers who are trained in recognizing bestiality and other forms of animals abuse, she said.
Milligan said she worked to establish good communication among everyone involved in working such cases, which improved the chain of custody for evidence preservation.
Even if a law gets passed from the Texas legislature's 2017 session, getting local law enforcement and prosecutors to enforce that statute could prove difficult.
Alan R. Spence, the director of operations and an instructor at the Texas Academy of Animal Control Officers, explained that Texas has 254 counties and that about 200 of those are “wide, rural spaces” with small police forces. Spence told Bloomberg BNA he served as a cop for 31 years and has been training animal cruelty officers for about a decade.
The culture in rural counties regarding animals is fundamentally different, Spence said. When he grew up on a ranch, Spence said dogs, horses and other animals were seen as tools, not part of the family like in more urban areas.
That's why he said animal cruelty cases in rural towns generally do not receive as much attention from law enforcement unless the media gets involved, he said.
Milligan admitted it might present a challenge to get police and prosecutors to use resources on bestiality cases, but maintained it could be solved by education.
In her travels around the state to train prosecutors in animal cruelty prosecution, Milligan said district attorneys express more interest in prosecution once they learn about the link between violence against animals and humans.
“People do care,” she said. “They’re just trying to do the best that they can in covering whatever the biggest type of crime is in their communities.”
Jarl said that in the past four years, more education and training for law enforcement and prosecutors caused an upswing in animal cruelty convictions.
Milligan also discussed such an increase, but said she believed bestiality is becoming more common in Texas. However, she added that she's unsure whether the crime is actually on the rise or stems from more brazen posts on social media.
“Is it as common as abuse or neglect?” Milligan asked. “No, probably not. But it's scarier and it's definitely out there.”
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