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New rules for county’s pets, owners

Journal Staff Report
Life for dogs and cats — especially dogs — could improve greatly starting Aug. 26 in Bernalillo County, when a new set of animal regulations take effect.
Compared with the city, the county had been relatively relaxed about mandating pet owner behavior — Albuquerque has an extensive animal ordinance that, in short, aims to control pet overpopulation and prevent the large numbers of euthanasias in city shelters.
Bernalillo County is catching up. In February, it added to its own set of ordinances after the County Commission formed an animal care review committee that came up with proposed changes and additions.

The purpose of revising the ordinance, says Matthew Pepper, Animal Care Services director, is to create one that “reflects the values of the community and something that’s progressive. … We also have to balance practicality with what happens in an ideal world.”
The major changes do not include a spay/neuter mandate, which is the law in the city. But pet overpopulation is addressed:

  •  You’ll need permit if your dog has puppies, or your cat has kittens, whether intentionally or not. If the pet has a litter and you don’t have a breeder permit, and you want to sell or give away the puppies or kittens, you’ll have to get a permit for $75 and then have her spayed.
  • “One of the biggest problems in the increase in animals in shelters is accidental litters,” Pepper says. “Unintentional litters create more of a burden on the sheltering system than intentional litters.”
  •  Animals found at large twice will be required to be spayed or neutered.
  • The existing ordinance prohibits pets running at large; if off the owner’s property, it has to be on a leash.
  • A breeder permit is required for every animal used for that purpose; in the past, only one permit was required, regardless of how many animals at the site were having litters.

The committee had discussed a mandatory spay/neuter law, Pepper says, but decided to focus on the animals creating the problems — the ones running loose, the ones having litters.
“Because a dog is unaltered doesn’t mean it’s a problem,” he says. The ordinance tries to address the problems.
The county also has doubled its budget for its low-cost spay/neuter voucher program, SNAP, for  Spay/Neuter Assistance Program, Pepper says.

  • All pets must be microchipped.  In the past, owners could choose another form of permanent ID, tattoos, but microchips are “the most reliable way” to identify a lost pet, Pepper says. This mirrors the city’s law. Requiring vaccinations and licenses are already in the law.
  • Two other major changes:
  •  It will be illegal to confine a dog by chaining it  — “tethering,” according to the ordinance — or using a trolley system, in which the dog is attached  to an overhead line. Dogs will have to be secured in their yard or in a kennel of an adequate size.

For the dog, Pepper says, being chained is “no way to live your life.” It’s often a matter of cruelty and neglect. For the public, it’s a safety issue. “A high percentage of bites are by animals that are tethered. They’re not emotionally stable animals.”
The  Animal Care Services officers see a large number of animals tied up, Pepper says, but “Our job is not to take the animals from (their owners). Our job is to see that animals have the best environment possible.”

  •  It will be illegal to transport your dog in the open back of a truck, unless it’s in a crate that’s secured to the vehicle.

“I’ve personally seen a dog fall out of a truck before,” Pepper says.
The dog-in-pickup mode of travel is a popular one, in city and county, and Pepper says his officers aren’t determined to pull you over and ticket you — but they will pull you over for an education. So will sheriff’s deputies, he said.
Enforcement will rely on “citizens being our eyes and ears,” as well as help from the anti-chaining group, New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better, the Animal Care Services’ 12 officers, and sheriff’s deputies. There will be anti-cruelty sweeps into high crime areas, pairing with deputies, that “walk the streets, going house to house.”
But going house to house is also another way to let people know about the new rules. Brochures on the ordinance changes will be handed out, as well as SNAP voucher forms.
“Our job is not to set people up to fail. Our job is to set people up to succeed,” Pepper says.