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Viewpoints differ over new dog ordinance

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Santa Fe Animal Services officer Andrea Gonzales unloads a dog at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The public can weigh in next week at a hearing on proposed changes to the Santa Fe animal control ordinance, which the city’s Animal Services division says is cumbersome and unneeded, while the city councilor sponsoring the legislation says it will prevent animal cruelty.

The changes would include a ban on dog trolley lines, and establish minimum and maximum temperatures for a dog to be outside. However, Animal Services Supervisor Chris Smith said abolishing the trolley line, which allows a dog to be restrained by tethering it to a cable that gives it freedom of movement along the length of the cable, could have unintended circumstances.

“We anticipate a lot more dogs running loose because we do have a lot of people that use the trolley (line),” Smith said during an interview at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. “I also foresee dog bites, dog attacks – anything that goes along with dogs running loose – will also go up due to that.”

Smith also said he foresaw an increase in dog owners giving up their pets to the shelter if they are unable to use the trolley line systems.

But City Councilor Signe Lindell disagrees.

“Change can be difficult, but we have no data to back this up,” Lindell said in an email. “Santa Fe County made this change nearly four years ago and I do not believe this was the result,” she said.

Santa Fe County amended its dog control ordinance in 2017 to eliminate any form of tethering, to include dog trolley lines, said a sheriff’s office spokesman.

“It is no longer a viable means of restraint,” said spokesman Juan Rios. “Nothing where the dog is tethered is allowed.”

Rios said that when the department receives chaining complaints, an officer assesses the situation and “explains to the pet owner that it is illegal,” with a warning to allow the individual to provide fencing or a dog house.

Asked if she would consider amending the proposed changes in light of the opposition and the recent rejection of the changes by the advisory Public Safety Committee, Lindell was unmoved.

“With proper training and leadership, this ordinance should not be problematic to enforce. If officers are not able to train to proficiency, they may need to be reassigned,” Lindell said.

The Public Works Committee approved the amended ordinance last week on the Consent Agenda, in which a number of items are approved at once without discussion. The ordinance goes before the Finance Committee on March 2 and before the city council on March 11 for a public hearing and possible approval.

Smith described a dog trolley line as a cable, which must be 8-10 feet in length, attached to two fixed points that keeps the animal on the property. The attaching line must allow the animal to lie down, have access to shade, be free from entanglements and be in an insect-free area. In the prior Public Safety Committee meeting, he said they were not dangerous.

Lindell said she has consulted with the Humane Society of the United States which, according to Lindell, said the trolley lines can have public safety risks and are detrimental to an animal’s well being.

Economics enter into the mix for renters with unfenced yards and the inability to fence them, said Smith. Elimination of trolley lines “would, in a sense, I would think, force them to keep their animals inside if they don’t have a fenced yard and have no way to keep their animal restrained,” he said. “Those are the only two options I really see if they can’t afford fencing.”

Weather is a factor

There are currently no specifics in the animal control ordinance on temperature limits for allowing animals outside. The proposed changes would establish a 32-degree minimum and a 90-degree maximum for animals to be outside.

“They consider that extreme weather when it’s on either of the two spectrums and they want animals to be inside,” said Smith.

The ordinance does not allow for discretion according to breed hardiness and background, Smith said.

“There needs to be some sort of discretion where officers can take the breed into consideration,” he said. “Where you have huskies, malamutes, they are OK in cold weather, that’s kind of what they were bred for. I mean they are sledding dogs in Alaska, where it gets into the negatives (below zero temps).”

But short-haired breeds are a different matter.

“You don’t want to see those outside, because they can’t really handle the weather,” he said.

The regulations require that animals outside must have access to food, shelter and water.

Smith said that in his 2½ years with Animal Services, neither he nor his officers have heard of any reports of animals dying from being outside in harsh weather.

“We’ve had welfare checks on dogs being outside and we go check on them. Sometimes, we do find dogs that don’t have shelter and water, and that allows us to educate the public, but I haven’t had any animals dying from those circumstances,” Smith said.

Lindell was dubious that anyone would “self-report freezing their pet to death … preventing death is a pretty low standard – we aspire to abolish neglect and cruelty,” she said. “These changes are solely focused on ending neglect and cruelty.”

The constitutionality of allowing officers into private yards to check on animals was also raised at the Feb. 18 Public Safety Committee meeting and the changes require officers to obtain permission for entry from property owners or occupants.

The animal shelter and Lindell are making efforts to augment pet safety.

Pet owners concerned about their pets’ welfare can obtain free straw from Animal Services to insulate animal care enclosures, said Smith. They can check with the department about the availability of straw by calling 505-955-2708.

Lindell said she and friends have established a fund of over $5,000 through the shelter to assist pet owners with fencing, dog houses and straw.

She is fond of saying “if it’s too cold for you to sleep outside, it’s too cold for your dog to sleep outside.”

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