Editorial: Cases of a Bengal tiger, 100-plus Chihuahuas must be prosecuted - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Cases of a Bengal tiger, 100-plus Chihuahuas must be prosecuted

On the spectrum of mammals they couldn’t be more different: A fully grown Bengal tiger is a wild, endangered carnivore in the big cat family that tips the scales at more than 500 pounds. A Chihuahua is a domesticated, naturally anxious toy dog breed that weighs in somewhere between 3 and 6 pounds.

Now, members of both those species are at the center of two unusual animal cruelty cases being investigated by New Mexico authorities.

New Mexico law enforcement officers found a 20-pound tiger cub shoved into a dog crate in a Southeast Albuquerque trailer in violation of federal law and more than 100 sick and filthy Chihuahuas crammed into a van that crossed the center line on U.S. 54 near Vaughn and hit a tractor-trailer rig.

The four-legged victims in both cases deserve not only the care and protection they are now receiving — the tiger is at the ABQ BioPark Zoo awaiting a sanctuary spot, the Chihuahuas are in multiple foster and forever homes across the East Mountain area — but to have their so-called owners prosecuted quickly and fully.

The tiger

According to the Albuquerque Journal story last week, Albuquerque “police found a Bengal tiger in a dog crate after following a trail of blood from a shooting Tuesday afternoon in Southeast Albuquerque that left a man injured.”

The blood led into a home, near Zuni and Louisiana, where the tiger and crate were found; the injured man was never located. Game and Fish spokesman Darren Vaughan states the obvious — which given the circumstances apparently needs stating — when he says “these are wild animals; they are not supposed to be pets, they’re not meant to be domesticated. Possession of an animal like this in the wrong hands, outside of a zoo or some other approved facility with people who know what they’re doing, can pose a danger to the public at large.” And possession by those not qualified to care for exotic animals means “the animals themselves end up in poor physical condition.”

It’s also not only dangerous and wrong, it’s illegal. Laura Hagen, director of captive wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, notes that “last month, President Biden signed the Big Cat Public Safety Act into law, which now prohibits private owners from keeping big cats as pets or breeding them.” And she points out that “while New Mexico already ban(ned) keeping big cats as pets … cases like this underscore exactly why the Big Cat Public Safety Act is such a critical animal protection and public safety measure. … Strong enforcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of this new federal law will ensure that these incidents become a sad relic of the past.”

Also of note is the type of person who would have a tiger in a dog crate. The Associated Press reported in June of monkeys and tigers running wild across Mexico in a show of “Mexican narcos’ fascination with exotic animals.” Fox News reported in 2016 “the exotic animals acquired by cartel kingpins put a strain on Mexico zoos when the leaders are captured,” and Wilson Quarterly reports illegal wildlife trafficking is just another facet of drug smuggling empires, “trumped only by drug trafficking and arms smuggling in its size and scale.”

Note that when N.M. officials were made aware of another tiger in September, they did not find the big cat but did seize a large cache of drugs, weapons, cash and a 3-foot-long alligator.

The Chihuahuas

As the new year kicked off, according to another Albuquerque Journal story, early Jan. 3 New Mexico State Police officers were called to a head-on collision on U.S. 54. They found “a 2000 Chevrolet Astro Van, driven by Missael Rodelo, 40, of El Paso, was traveling south on U.S. 54 when it crossed into oncoming traffic and crashed into a 2022 Freightliner tractor-trailer rig driven by a 41-year-old man.”

And while Rodelo and the four van passengers, and the tractor-trailer driver and his passenger, were taken to a hospital with injuries not believed to be life-threatening, the 100-plus Chihuahuas crammed into the van were not so lucky.

Santa Rosa Mayor Nelson Harrison Kotiar says officials discovered 64 living and 18 dead dogs in the vehicle, and the scene indicated 108 to 110 dogs had been in it when it wrecked. Officials think some got out through a side of the van that had been ripped open.

Several Chihuahuas have since been found and taken to authorities in the area. And many in the van were filthy, sick and showing signs of neglect and perhaps coming from a “puppy mill.” None examined was spayed or neutered, many were covered in feces, emaciated and/or dehydrated, with eye infections, road rash, skin conditions and pyometra (a uterine infection from overbreeding and neglect). And several were pregnant.

To help with the dogs there’s a GoFundMe account, gofund.me/8cfa0b77, and an adoption event today, Jan. 15, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, 9780 Coors NW, Suite F. For more info, call or text (505) 378-9616 or (505) 519-4151.

The prosecution

No charges have been filed regarding the tiger, and van driver Rodelo was cited for failure to maintain a traffic lane and no insurance. It is important authorities determine who owns the tiger or the home where he was caged, and to fully question Rodelo and the van’s passengers to determine who owned the dogs, where they came from and where they were going.

Both cases appear to involve crossing state lines — it’s highly unlikely the tiger was born here and the van driver is not from New Mexico. Here’s to local, state and, if needed, federal authorities ensuring all creatures great and small get justice in these two cases.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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