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Political Animals

Abbott World just can't seem to catch a break. It began last week with his dancing around the question of his support for the Texas Equal Pay Act on a Sunday talk show, and some very damaging evidence that emerged a few days later.

State Senator Wendy Davis followed that with a teleconference with Senator Sylvia Garcia and former TXU senior executive Alex Jimenez dealing with new evidence that Abbott has fought against equal pay for Texas families in the courtroom.

Per Davis's press release: "As Attorney General, Greg Abbott actively fought against equal pay for equal work in the courtroom. Greg Abbott has shown that he would be a governor who just doesn't care that there are more families than ever before relying on two incomes, who can't afford to have one of their paychecks unfairly reduced because one of them is a woman."

In 2012, Abbott's office actually fought against equal pay in a court case in which he defended Prairie View A&M University in a lawsuit (Prairie View A&M University v. Chatha) filed by a professor who faced pay discrimination. The professor, an Indian woman, lost. PVAM argued that the statute of limitations had expired, while the plaintiff contended that the federal Ledbetter law protected her. Abbott argued that the change in federal law didn't affect Texas's state statute of limitations.

It's clear that whatever protections women enjoy under the Lilly Ledbetter Act don't apply in Texas. Under state law a woman has only 180 days after the first instance of discrimination to file a complaint. In most cases, the worker doesn't become aware of the pay discrepancy until much later. The Ledbetter Act guards against this time lapse.

Spaced City

In the Doghouse
Should owners have 30 days to reclaim lost pets?

Craig Malisow

The Houston City Council is scheduled to vote March 26 on a proposal that would eliminate a 30-day redemption period in the animal control ordinance allowing prior owners to reclaim animals that wind up in the city pound.

Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care officials proposed the amendment after the owners of a missing German shepherd sued a rescue group that pulled the dog from BARC and refused to return him. The case exposed a conflict in the existing ordinance, according to which BARC — like all munici­pal shelters — has the right to euthanize animals after a three- or six-day holding period, but which technically gives previous owners a 30-day period to reclaim the animal.

Allowing the 30-day period to remain could have a chilling effect on personal adoptions and pulls from rescue groups, because BARC could not automatically guarantee ownership, BARC spokesman Chris Newport says. The ordinance would allow BARC to assume ownership after the holding period, enabling it to transfer ownership to an individual adopter or rescue group.

"We need to provide the greatest number of animals the greatest chance of getting into a new home. In order to do that, we need to be able to provide a degree of certainty to the rescue groups that work with us, that if they pull an animal from us, it's going to be good to go and they're not going to get into a fight or they're not going to be questioned" if an owner comes forward later, Newport says.

But opponents of the proposal call it an egregious governmental overstep that essentially allows missing pets to be seized without due process.

Leading the charge is self-proclaimed "dog lawyer" Zandra Anderson, whose legislative work on behalf of breeders has made her a polarizing figure in the local animal-rescue community. Anderson is amping up the emotional quotient, accusing the Greater Houston German Shepherd Rescue group of refusing to return Iraqi War veteran Carlos Bautista's dog, even though the veteran and his family allegedly did everything they could to find their dog after he went missing in October 2012.

Anderson represented Bautista (now a Houston police officer) in his suit against the rescue, which pulled the dog from the Brazoria County animal shelter. The rescue's president, Austin Brisco, refused to return the dog, even after Bautista proved ownership and offered to reimburse the rescue for its adoption and vet expenses, according to the suit.

Anderson had represented Alfonso and Lydia Lira in a similar suit, filed one month before Bautista's. In both cases, the rescue group believed the prior owners were irresponsible and that the dogs would be better off in other homes.

However, the Liras claimed in their lawsuit that they had diligently checked shelter postings, and used other online forums, to find their dog, and that BARC mistakenly classified the dog as an "owner surrender," which means he was never posted on the shelter's Petharbor.com service as a lost animal.

The Liras prevailed and their dog was returned; there is a pending appeal.

In Bautista's case, the dog was heartworm-positive. However, in February, the rescue returned the dog and Bautista dropped his case.

However, Anderson is still citing the cases as a way for her supporters to argue against the change before City Council.

"We have Constitutional rights in our property and the City is trying to take away our dogs without any due process," Anderson's Texas Dog Lawyer site proclaims. "This is a harsh result for something that could happen to anyone. Dogs are family so please help prevent this callous law from passing." (Here's another thing that's callous: not having the common decency to tell a bewildered pet owner if their dog was one of many who baked to death in a metal building).

Newport stresses that these cases are rare, given the mandatory hold period for animals with identification. Stray or unidentified dogs are held for three days, while animals with ID — license, name tag, microchip — are held for six days following BARC's first attempted contact with the owner.

Several other Houston-area rescue groups showed their support in the amendment by signing an amicus brief in the Lira case. The brief states that "should original owners maintain any property right in a properly impounded animal, local facilities that euthanize, members of the public who adopt, and private facilities and shelters that receive transfers would be faced with significant concerns" including lost "transfer opportunities with private shelters and rescues because of their concerns related to transfers not giving full title. Private shelters and rescues may choose not to accept transfers for fear of lawsuits for recovery of ownership. Even where a private shelter or rescue accepts a transfer, it may be unwilling to expend funds on extensive treatment or spaying or neutering because of the possibility of a true owner returning."

We'll keep you posted.


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