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Animal Control Changes Proposed

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe County officials are working on a new animal control ordinance with revisions that would prohibit chaining, require licenses for cats and increase a slew of animal-related fees and fines.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Holian said Tuesday during a commission meeting that the proposed ordinance is a “major step forward” from existing laws. However, she noted there could be room for improvement and said the new measure isn’t a done deal.

“This ordinance is an important indicator of how we treat animals in our community, and it’s really important that we get it right,” Holian said.

The County Commission held a public hearing Tuesday, and a second hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27. County officials also said they plan to hold community meetings on the proposals. The new ordinance would increase the annual license fee for a dog that isn’t spayed or neutered from $10 to $100. The fee for a spayed or neutered dog would rise from $3 to $8.

Fees for cats will be $100 for an unaltered animal and $8 for a spayed or neutered one.

The ordinance also increases penalties for a number of animal-related offenses, including cruelty, neglect and abandonment. A citation for animal cruelty, for instance, would warrant an automatic court appearance.

Fines for failing to get an animal vaccinated against rabies would rise from $15 to $75 for the first offense, $150 for the second offense, $300 for the third and a referral to court for subsequent failures.

“Fees and penalties were adjusted to accommodate current costs of administering an animal control program, taking into consideration fees and penalties of surrounding jurisdictions, and to motivate spaying and neutering,” a memo from deputy county attorney Rachel Brown said.

Santa Fe Animal Shelter director Mary Martin said during the public hearing that, while the shelter supports the new ordinance, officials there object to having different licensing fees for sterilized and unsterilized animals. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter took over licensing in 2010.

“Our opinion is that it is punitive and defeats the purpose, which is to make sure companion animals are protected against rabies and also licensed,” Martin said.

The proposed ordinance prohibits “direct point chaining to (a) stationary object.” It outlines a permissible system of tethering a dog to a trolley system.

County animal control supervisor Audrey Esquibel said the current ordinance doesn’t specifically prohibit people from chaining their dogs.

“What we’re proposing was that if you have no way to contain your dog … the way to contain it would be a trolley system” she said.

However, some believe the county should go further. A representative from New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better, a nonprofit that helps chained and penned dogs, urged county officials on Tuesday to consider a “zero tolerance” policy for chaining and tethering.

Chained dogs can experience horrific abuse, including rotting flesh and death from the elements and accidental hanging, the representative said.

Other places in New Mexico, including Las Vegas and, most recently, Bernalillo County, have zero tolerance policies in place, she said.

Other provisions in Santa Fe County’s proposed ordinance include requiring that a dog be on a leash at all times except when on its owner’s property or at a dog park. That means people won’t be able to walk their dogs using “voice command.”

“I think that provision would cut down on incidents we have on walking trails where somebody has their dog off-leash and it runs from them and attacks another dog or bites a human,” Esquibel said.

Officials have eliminated a provision in the proposed ordinance requiring people who feed or care for feral cat colonies to obtain licenses. However, the section governing feral cats is still a work in progress.

It’s possible caregivers might still need to obtain a permit for colonies, but at no cost, Esquibel said, noting a major goal is to be able to keep track of feral cat colonies.

A previous policy of trapping the cats and depositing them at the shelter resulted in hundreds of cats being euthanized, Esquibel said. People can now trap the cats and take them to the shelter to be spayed or neutered and then released back to their territory.

Santa Fe County’s animal control ordinance applies to all of the county except for the city of Santa Fe, which has its own ordinance. Other proposed provisions:

♦ Requires that animals picked up and taken to the shelter be spayed or neutered before being released back to their owners.

♦ Puts in place size requirements for dog kennels that depend on the size of the animal. The ordinance also mandates that no more than two dogs be kept in the same cage.

♦ Outlines guidelines on the ownership of a potentially dangerous dog. The ordinance requires that dangerous dogs be registered with the county for a $200 permit fee. Dangerous is defined as unprovoked, potentially destructive or injurious behavior toward a person.

♦ Clarifies that enforcement of the ordinance will be by animal control officers and Sheriff’s Department deputies.

♦ Requires that an animal that bites a person must be quarantined for 10 days. This brings the county in line with state law.

♦ Requires that people obtain permits for residential guard dogs and outlines new conditions and restrictions relating to guard dogs, including enclosure and signage details.

♦ Requires that veterinarians supply the county with monthly reports on animal vaccinations.

People interested in learning more about the proposed animal control ordinance should visit the county’s website at www.santafecountynm.gov.

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