Dog care ordinances need teeth

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Last week, animal advocates attended a county commissioner meeting to present their concerns regarding a reported occurrence of animal cruelty. A county resident had reported to animal control several times that two dogs next door were tied on a leash and a chain 24/7.

Anyone who has worked within the animal challenges in our community is aware that dogs chained or tied up is a common occurrence in our county and town. Yes, there is a law in both town and county ordinances to prohibit the chaining of dogs, but it is rarely enforced for a variety of reasons, according to Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, whose department oversees and supervises animal control.

Two reasons why people might keep their dogs chained up come readily to mind. One is that the owners do not have an enclosed yard and a chain prevents the dog from roaming off the property. Citing owners for roaming dogs is also in the animal ordinances. The reality is a law that most of us would like to see enforced where the dog is in a fenced yard and not chained can't be implemented due to the cost of building a fence.

Secondly, because of my years of working with animal abuse, I feel that even though lack of money is real, the majority of people who chain their dogs every minute of the day and night without any human contact other than to feed them (if that even happens regularly) do not feel the animal deserves or warrants more than the bare basics. Usually, you see sad, pitiful "shelters" that expose the dog to below-freezing weather. Laws for appropriate shelter protecting the dog can be found in the animal ordinance, too.

Related to the two dogs a county resident described to the county commissioners: One was a husky attached to a fence pole for four months before being put on a trolley. Specifications for a trolley in lieu of a chain are also in the animal ordinances. The trolley would constantly become tangled and the dog would be kept wound up for hours and hours and could not get to food and water. The other was a German shepherd that has been on a heavy chain since it was a puppy.

Enforcing these animal laws comes down to the judgment of the animal control officers and the sheriff. They must have a court order before they can remove animals.

The neighbor woman called me frantically one night after calling dispatch and attempting to get a deputy over, as she had just observed the neighbor hitting the shepherd with a board. The beating was taped with full audio and visuals by the neighbor.

Hogrefe responded the next day and left without seizing the dog after the owner told him the two dogs had gotten into a bad fight and the shepherd was the aggressor.

The neighbor brought animal advocates to the next county commissioner meeting to report animal abuse and five details to the commissioners. The sheriff was there to explain the reasons the dogs have not been seized.

The sheriff's animal control officers did issue a citation to the owners for a court date, which is Dec. 6. Meanwhile, these dogs need to be kept in a humane way and given good shelter for the coming freezing weather.

Thank you to Linda Sanchez, a town of Taos animal control officer, for offering straw bales for the dogs' shelter.

Thanks to the neighbor who called, these people are now on the "radar." I will be at the hearing on Dec. 6.

And thanks to the county commissioners for listening with compassion and scheduling a meeting with the sheriff's department and animal advocates, who will attend a meeting to be announced in the near future.

Also, thank you to Cindy Lucas, new director of Stray Hearts Animal Shelter, for taking the time to attend the commissioner meeting and observe.

For information or tips, email taosbark@gmail.com.

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