City animal rescues plummet in May

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Animal Control Officer Brice Stacy tries to calm two puppies before he unloads them from cages in the truck. The puppies, their pitbull mother and heeler father were all relinquished Tuesday by their owner, who said the adults were vicious.

Sharna Johnson

While the Clovis Police Department continues to evaluate how much control to exercise over animal rescue groups, rescues have ground to a near halt.

“Right now our animal rescues really slowed up quite a bit since this story broke,” Police Chief Steve Sanders said.

According to data from the city’s Animal Control office, seven animals — down from an average of 60 per month —have been rescued from the Clovis shelter since early May, when it was learned rescue groups had signed animals out from the Clovis shelter and taken some of them to Albuquerque shelters where they were signed in as strays.

In the same time frame, euthanasia rose from an average of 98 dogs and cats a month for the first four months of the year to 167 in May.

Those higher numbers are in part because the warmer months traditionally lead to an influx of kittens, but the lack of rescues has contributed, said Animal Control Officer Marty Martinez.

“This is our busy time of year,” he said. “It does make a difference (that there are no rescues but) we get more animals this time of year.”

News of the transport of animals from Clovis to Albuquerque shelters brought ire from officials with the state’s largest city — their own shelters euthanized more than 14,000 animals last year because they couldn’t find homes — who said they would start billing other jurisdictions if it was learned animals were brought in from outside Albuquerque.

According to five receipts accounting for 39 animals taken from the Clovis shelter in 2011 by animal rescue groups, only nine of those animals were listed as going to specific facilities. The remainder were identified as having been taken into rescue “networks” with no destination specified.

Shelter records indicate in the same time frame, 240 animals were rescued from the facility. That figure is more than 200 over what were documented through receipts.

Officials have said only 12 animals ended up in Albuquerque shelters.

Sanders said his department is still evaluating if policy should be changed or if the policy it had was sound despite the issue that arose.

Rescue groups are supposed to be verified by a city rescue and transport committee and those who sign animals out sign a contract that they will take the animals to a recognized shelter or rescue group, he said.

The shelter also required groups bring receipts back to show where the animals ended up.

Once they leave the shelter, he said he isn’t sure how far the department’s involvement should extend.

“It comes down to when does the responsibility of the animal control facility end. The rescue group comes to us and we’re actually adopting the animal out to the group, they’re signing a contract,” he said.

“We’re still looking into this. The question is how much control do we actually have over the program once we adopt out the dog — what legal authority do we have?”

Sanders said there are no ordinances or statutes that address the issue and the question is whether to make it an administrative issue or develop an ordinance.

“I think a good portion of the people (doing rescues) mean well and they’re trying to do the right thing,” he said. “And we’re trying to do our best to always look out for the welfare of the animal.”

Sanders said the police department is also undergoing a leadership rotation that happens every two years. He said he wants to give new commanders time to get settled in their new roles so they can address the issue.

Capt. Patrick Whitney and Lt. Doug Ford will be overseeing the shelter as part of their new responsibilities, he said.

The system of animal rescues needs to be monitored, said Linda Cross, who serves as chairwoman of the city’s animal task force.

“People have good intentions and they think that they’re saving animals by giving them a second chance and I think some of that works out, (but) you’d be surprised, I’ve just heard horror stories,” she said.

“Even though you try to cover yourself and come up with paperwork, I think still the farther the animal gets away from you, the harder it is to follow that paper trail. I think their heart’s always in the right place and I think they have done some good but I think others have fallen through the cracks.”

Cross said when the committee was formed, it began working with existing rescues.

The issues that arose in May came as a surprise, she said.

“They were already doing this transfer program and so as far as we knew it was working and they didn’t need any direction from the task force. For all we knew it was standing on its own and working,” she said.

Cross said she will take direction from Sanders if he decides changes need to be made, although she would like to see tighter monitoring and inspections of rescue groups.

“I would like to see the transfer program stay in place. It was something we wanted to see happen but we wanted to see it done right,” she said.

“If what (the animal is) going to is no better than where they’ve been, you’re just prolonging their misery and I think the people who care would agree with that… I never thought I would see the day where I said sometimes… there’s worse things than having them put down.”

Cross said her committee and the High Plains Humane Society that sprang from it continue working to encourage spay and neuter programs as a means to curb strays in the community.