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Mayor: Tougher dangerous dog law needed

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Richard Berry has instructed his staff to prepare proposed changes that would strengthen the city’s Angel’s Law, which was designed to help protect the public from dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners.

“I think most people in our city would agree that we simply don’t want dangerous dogs threatening our families and pets. I am included in that group,” Berry said in a statement provided to the Journal on Tuesday.

The mayor’s statement followed a Journal story published Monday that described the experience of a Four Hills Village woman when her terrier was fatally attacked by a Rottweiler on May 6.

The Journal also has reported extensively on the case of a small dog mauled to death by several dogs on the West Side while walking with his owner in April.

In the more recent case, Betty Reeves, 73, of Four Hills Village, told the Journal she felt revictimized when she appeared for a city hearing on whether the owners of the Rottweiler were irresponsible and their dog dangerous.

Reeves, who was accompanied by several neighbors, never got to testify.

She wasn’t informed beforehand that the case had settled in a plea deal in which the irresponsible ownership determination by Animal Welfare was dismissed by an assistant city attorney.

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez on Tuesday promised better communication with victims of such attacks.

“It is regrettable that Ms. Reeves and her neighbors were not informed of the case status before they arrived for the hearing. We know that these are very emotional situations. Going forward, the City Attorney’s Office, in coordination with the Animal Welfare Department, will make sure that those impacted by these cases are kept informed on the status of the case, including possible settlements involving potentially dangerous dogs.”

Under Angel’s Law, which was named for a boy who was mauled in 2004 while trying to protect his little sister from a dog attack, the names and descriptions of dogs deemed dangerous by the city are typically posted on a city website, along with their addresses.

But that didn’t happen until Monday afternoon in the case of Kera, the Rottweiler on Wagon Train Drive who attacked Reeves’ dog.

Reeves said she was taking her dog for a walk when the Rottweiler charged at them, grabbing the smaller dog by the throat and shaking her. The terrier, also named Angel, managed to break free and run home, but before the little dog could get to the safety of Reeves’ enclosed front courtyard, the Rottweiler caught her again.

Angel’s skin was torn off from much of her torso, and she sustained wounds to her throat and head. Reeves said she had Angel euthanized three days later.

Reeves said after her dog was mauled, she wanted to let the mayor know what happened.

Berry lives less than a mile from where the attack occurred. His parents live around the corner.

Reeves also had learned of an earlier attack by the Rottweiler on a neighbor’s standard poodle.

Hernandez said, at Berry’s direction, her office will be working with the Animal Welfare Department to find ways “to improve policies and strengthen our local laws to better protect our communities and residents.”

Among potential changes, she said, “we plan to propose amendments to Angel’s Law to make it clearer when the department will take dog attack cases to a judge to request a warrant to take custody of a dog before an administrative hearing.”

That became an issue after a pet Maltese in Ventana Ranch was killed April 27. Its owners, backed by other residents in the area, complained to Animal Welfare about not removing the three dogs involved in the attack.

After a required 10-day quarantine, the dogs were allowed to remain at the home.

Animal Welfare did issue a notice deeming the dogs dangerous and their owner irresponsible under the law.

In that case, a city hearing officer last week denied an appeal by Maria Escamilla, who testified during a June 22 administrative hearing that her dogs weren’t vicious and played well with her grandchildren.

Like the owners of the dog in the Four Hills case, Escamilla wasn’t home when the attack occurred.

Prior to the attack, Jack Cash had been walking his Maltese named Duncan on a leash. Cash was bitten and sustained a cracked shoulder in trying to fight off the dogs.

Hearing officer Willard H. Davis wrote in an opinion that “there is no doubt about (Escamilla’s) genuine affection for her dogs … nor about her good intentions to be responsible for their care and proper containment.”

But the testimony showed she lacks adequate knowledge and training on how to handle her dogs, Davis wrote.

The attack on Cash and his dog was “unprovoked and inexcusable,” he stated.

Escamilla has refused to communicate with Cash about her dogs’ attacks on him and Duncan, Davis stated. And she has not offered to make restitution for his resulting medical expenses, he said.

Davis found Escamilla to be an irresponsible owner and her dogs to be dangerous, triggering the requirement under Angel’s Law that she have a minimum $100,000 insurance policy to cover injuries or damages caused by the dogs.

Owners of dogs declared dangerous are also required to confine the dogs on their property with a secure fence or facility; keep their dogs on leashes outside of the home; and must allow inspections of the property by Animal Welfare officers.

If an owner refuses an inspection, Animal Welfare officers can seize the dog and euthanize it.