As an advocate for responsible dog ownership and the rights of dog owners, the American Kennel Club celebrates the recent Texas Supreme Court decision in Lira v. Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc. The decision brought an end to the debate as to who should be the rightful owner of a German Shepherd Dog called Monte Carlo.
In January 2013, Monte Carlo escaped through a garage door inadvertently left open at the Houston, Texas, home of the Lira family. The dog was picked up by the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC), which incorrectly listed the dog as a Belgian Malinois that had been surrendered by its owner. At the conclusion of a three-day holding period, BARC gave possession of the dog to a volunteer with the Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue. After discovering that Monte Carlo was in the rescue organization’s possession, the original owners requested the dog’s return, and offered to reimburse the rescue organization for all expenses it incurred while caring for Monte Carlo. The rescue refused.
The Liras sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that they were Monte Carlo’s owners and an injunction ordering his return. A trial court ruled in favor of the Liras. The rescue organization appealed, and an appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision, concluding that the Liras had lost their right to recover possession of the dog. The Liras in turn appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, asking for reinstatement of the trial court’s decision.
On Friday, April 1, the Texas Supreme Court announced a unanimous decision in favor of the Liras. The Court relied on several settled statutory construction principles while analyzing the Houston animal control ordinance in effect when Monte Carlo was picked up by BARC. The court specifically reiterated a 2012 opinion that described private property rights as a “foundational liberty, not a contingent privilege” while emphasizing the state’s policy against the forfeiture of property. This served as the court’s underlying reasoning as it repeatedly found that the Houston ordinance did not demonstrate any intention of transferring Monte Carlo’s ownership in the circumstances under which he was picked up and impounded by BARC.
The full decision in Lira and Lira vs. Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc., including background facts, may be viewed at http://www.txcourts.gov/media/1337809/140964.pdf.
The American Kennel Club applauds the Texas Supreme Court’s Lira doctrine. We strongly endorse the right to own, keep and breed dogs in a responsible and humane manner. The AKC believes animal control laws should be written to respect a person’s proprietary interests in their animals while addressing problematic habitual at-large behaviors.