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Can you be prosecuted for rescuing an animal in danger in Texas?

Every natural disaster brings out the best and the worst of people. In some cases, the worst rumors start getting circulated -- and mistaken for the truth.

Lately, there's been rumors swirling around the internet in relation to the storm damage in Texas. The rumors revived an old myth that people could be prosecuted -- with hefty fines and prison terms -- for rescuing an animal that doesn't belong to them if that animal is in danger unless it meets certain criteria.

Rest easy, animal lovers: The rumors are false.

There is no specific law in Texas that determines when an animal is in enough danger that it's okay to attempt a rescue, even if the animal isn't yours. Rescuing the animal -- even if you take it with you in order to give it shelter -- also doesn't constitute theft.

Here's why:

It's entirely true that stealing livestock, like horses, cattle and sheep, are felony-level crimes -- but rescuing an animal (or even a small herd of animals) isn't the same as stealing.

For one thing, Texas law has something called the "necessity defense." In essence, this says that an animal rescuer's actions are justified as long as the rescuer reasonably believes that the animal in question is in immediate danger. In other words, if it is a choice between leaving the animal to an almost-certain death and taking the animal, even though you might technically be stealing it, the action is justifiable.

Secondly, Texas law also requires a certain level of intent in order to prove that someone's actions were actual theft. Under the law, you aren't guilty of theft unless you try to keep the animal, hide the animal from its owner, refuse to return it to its owner without payment of some kind or intend to get rid of the animal someplace where its owner isn't likely to ever find it.

If, by any chance, you find yourself in a situation where you rescue an animal and are accused of trying to steal it, please contact a criminal defense attorney immediately for assistance.

Source: Snopes, "Can Animal Rescuers Be Prosecuted for Theft for Saving Animals from Harvey?," accessed Sep. 01, 2017

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