ASPCA Commends Texas Court of Appeals Ruling Confirming Legitimacy of Transfers from Municipal Animal Shelters to Private Rescues

Decision in Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc. v. Lira. supports the ability of municipal shelters to act in the best interest of animals
August 29, 2014

NEW YORK—The ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commends the Texas Court of Appeals August 26th ruling in the case of Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc. v. Lira, which confirms the finality of adoptions and transfers of animals from municipal shelters to private rescues. The ASPCA participated as amicus in support of the rescue, Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue, Inc., in this appeal. 

“This ruling is incredibly important to support the ongoing cooperation between municipal shelters and rescues, not only in Texas, but across the United States,” said Jennifer Chin, vice president of the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy department. “The trial court’s ruling set a dangerous precedent that could have threatened the ability of municipal shelters to act in the best interest of countless animals each year by transferring them to private rescues with the capacity and networks to find animals loving homes.”

The case began in early 2013 when Houston Animal Control found a German Shepherd dog running off leash with no city license, rabies tag, micro-chip or other kind of identification on his collar. Following the expiration of the city-mandated owner claim period, the dog was transferred to the Greater Houston German Shepherd Dog Rescue (GHGSDR) which neutered the dog and began treating him for heartworms. Shortly after the transfer, brother and sister Alfonso and Lydia Lira contacted the rescue, claiming to be the rightful owners and requesting the animal be returned. When GHGSDR refused, the Liras filed suit against the rescue. At the trial level, the court found in favor of the Liras, ruling that they did not lose ownership of the dog despite the fact that they did not reclaim within the timeframe required under the city ordinance.

In the proceedings before the Texas Court of Appeals, the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy department submitted an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the rescue group, arguing that the Court should rule that GHGSDR had rightful ownership of the dog under the Houston ordinance because the previous owners failed to assert ownership rights within the timeframe specified. The ASPCA also argued that the initial court decision disregarded standard pet redemption processes, creating significant uncertainty with regard to the validity of the adoption and placement decisions made on a daily basis by animal shelters, non-profit animal rescue organizations, and potential adopters. The Court agreed, and reversed the trial court’s decision noting that the shelter had held the dog for a time period greater than that required by the city ordinance and, thereafter, had properly transferred the dog to GHGSDR for treatment and adoption. 

The ASPCA Legal Advocacy department focuses on increasing legal protections for animals across the country and shaping stronger animal welfare laws through the judicial system.