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Accused Dognapper Caught Tossing Pups From Car

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A self-proclaimed animal rights activist — suspected of stealing dozens of pets the past two years — was arrested last week after she was accused of taking two pit bull puppies from a Moriarty home, then throwing the animals from her moving car while being chased by the dogs’ owner.

The 6-month-old puppies survived.

Debra Swenerton, 59, of Tijeras faces multiple charges, including burglary and animal cruelty, and Torrance County officials say they suspect she may have stolen as many as 60 dogs over the past two years.

Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said that, in the recent case, Swenerton was caught in the act — tossing the dogs one by one from the driver’s side window of her vehicle — by deputies who had been alerted by the puppies’ owner.

White said Swenerton has been a suspect in earlier dog thefts, but, until Friday, his office lacked solid evidence linking her to the crimes. Swenerton had been sending letters to his office complaining about how dogs were being treated, he said. A number of the same dogs she mentioned would later vanish.

“Dogs were disappearing from kennels, inside people’s homes and from yards behind locked fenced areas,” White said. “I guess she believes in her world that these dogs were being abused,” he added. “But these dogs were not being abused. They were being kept and cared for.”

Deputies believe Swenerton either put the stolen dogs up for adoption or gave them to a no-kill shelter in Colorado.

Friday’s incident began when the Moriarty resident arrived home just in time to find Swenerton stealing the animals, White said. Swenerton fled, but the owner, a woman, gave chase in her vehicle, calling 911 at the same time.

Deputies responding to the emergency call saw what was happening, managed to stop Swenerton’s vehicle, then arrested her.

Earlier this month, Swenerton said that she and her husband, Steven Swenerton, run an animal rescue operation. In 2010, the couple sought a conditional use permit for a nonprofit animal facility on Juan Tomas Road in Tijeras.

In a blurb about himself on Facebook, Steven Swenerton says the couple owns six dogs. On Monday, he told the Telegraph that his wife had been instructed by her attorney not to discuss the case. She did not return telephone calls.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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