Dog's day in court proves elusive - Albuquerque Journal

Dog’s day in court proves elusive

Buster snuggles with Cynthia Dares, director of the Sunflower Sanctuary Animal Rescue, where he now lives. “Everyone was telling me how mean he was, trying to bite everyone,” Dares says. “He is a love now.”

A back view of Buster after he was rescued in June shows some of his matted hair, the yellow discoloration coming from urine.

One of Buster’s matted paws.

The little dog, she says, was so matted that he could barely walk, the hardened snarls of burr- and feces-flecked hair pushing against the overgrown claws on his paws.

He was about 11 years old, tiny, starving, his eyes shrunken and seeping and sightless. He had a torn ACL, a collapsed trachea, and once he was rescued he ate so much food that an X-ray of his abdomen showed his stomach dangerously stretched beyond its limits.

He was listed as a shih-poo, though with all those mats it was hard to tell what he was.

What Cynthia Dares could tell was that this little boy needed help.

“Broke my heart to see what bad shape he was in,” said Dares, who runs the Sunflower Sanctuary Animal Rescue in the East Mountains, when the little dog first arrived last June.

She named him Buster.

Buster spent his first Christmas at Sunflower Sanctuary Animal Rescue in the East Mountains. Since his rescue in June, he has had a damaged eye removed, a torn ACL repaired, collapsed trachea treated. Though he is blind, he seems to get around well in his surroundings. (Courtesy of Cynthia Dares)

But her sadness turned to anger when she learned his story. She became even angrier when she learned just this week that no one would be held accountable for the condition Buster was in when she took him in. This, after a Valencia County Animal Control officer described the former owner in a criminal complaint as leaving the dog “neglected, matted, injured and heavily abused.”

Yvette Tapia of Los Lunas was charged with two petty misdemeanors, with both charges being dismissed. Twice.

Tapia, 56, declined to comment, then said the “sanctuary lady” is lying, and that her dog and a cat were stolen. She referred further comment to her attorney, Marlo Aragon, who said there would be no further comment “other than to say the cases were dismissed and my client maintains her innocence.”

If Tapia’s name is familiar, you may recall that, in 2008, news media reported that she was fired from her job as an assistant in the Albuquerque City Attorney’s Office after a video surfaced showing her choking, kicking and tossing a puppy named Buddy.

An article in the Journal also stated that she was fired after the city conducted its own investigation into the allegations and became concerned that she had been untruthful.

Back to Buster. Tapia arrived home June 15 and found her dog, which she called Zack, and a cat named Harry Potter, missing. Tapia told Valencia County Sheriff’s deputies the next day that she believed her son and daughter-in-law had stolen the animals.

The daughter-in-law admitted to a deputy that she had taken the animals because, she said, Tapia was abusing them. According to a Valencia County Sheriff’s Department report, the daughter-in-law claimed Tapia locked the cat in a small cage, and kept the dog in a bathroom filled with the dog’s urine and feces. The daughter-in-law also accused Tapia of hitting and kicking the dog when he barked, the report states.

The report, dated June 16, also states that the daughter-in-law gave the cat to a cat sanctuary, but could not recall its name.

Zack, she said, was given to a friend.

On June 17, Dares said she received a call from a sobbing young woman who said she had a dog in bad shape and in need of veterinary care that she could not afford.

That dog was Zack.

Dares said she immediately arranged for a friend to pick up the dog in the Los Lunas area that day and take him to her vet at East Mountain Veterinary Service in Edgewood.

Records from the clinic indicate that the dog received urgent care treatment that day and remained in its care until June 19, when Dares picked up the tiny, frail and matted dog.

Buster began his makeover, his hair shorn, nails trimmed. He underwent repeated hospitalizations for stomach issues. Although records from a microchip company indicate that his damaged eyes were the result of cataracts, veterinary records show that the injury to one eye was so severe that it was removed June 29.

Dares said it’s also likely the other eye may need to be removed.

Dares, meanwhile, began piecing together Buster’s story with the help of the daughter-in-law, who called her.

On June 24, both women publicly posted the story of Buster on Facebook and vowed to seek animal abuse charges against Tapia.

But it wasn’t so easy.

Valencia County Sheriff’s Department records show that the daughter-in-law had sought to have charges pressed against Tapia for animal cruelty on June 16, but was advised to contact the county’s Animal Control.

Freshly shorn last summer, Buster appears to appreciate being rid of the matted hair embedded with burrs and his own waste. (Courtesy of Cynthia Dates)

Dares said she repeatedly contacted Valencia County Animal Control, even calling a local TV station, which aired Buster’s story July 7 and 8, in the hopes of enlisting public pressure to make that happen.

Finally, on July 16, a Valencia County Animal Control officer agreed to meet her halfway between Tijeras and Los Lunas so that he could see Buster for himself and she could provide him with records, photos and a video as evidence.

Charges were filed against Tapia on Aug. 25 – they were misdemeanor charges for animal cruelty and not having a current rabies vaccination.

In a letter dated Sept. 20 to Belen Magistrate Court Judge John Chavez, who was assigned the case, Tapia blamed the allegations on a family squabble with her son and daughter-in-law.

When Tapia’s court date arrived Nov. 16, the officer was a no-show. Animal Control Director Jess Weston said the officer had abruptly resigned before trial.

Judge Chavez dismissed the charges “with prejudice,” meaning that the case was over and charges could not be refiled.

Even so, Weston said he directed another officer to refile the case in December. Tapia’s attorney argued that the refiled case violated criminal procedure and constituted double jeopardy, and the judge agreed.

Once again, the charges were dismissed.

Dares found that out this week.

“It’s so frustrating when you fight so hard day after day, for it to end like this,” Dares said.

It’s a bitter ending to a case that one can argue should have at least given Buster his day in court. But there is some solace in knowing that, for him, a new life has begun, filled with love, care and safety in his forever sanctuary home in the East Mountains.

Anybody can tell that.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793,

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