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Editorial: City should toughen up laws covering vicious pets

It’s time Albuquerque makes its streets safer for its pets – and its residents simply walking them on a leash along public sidewalks.

In May, 73-year-old Betty Reeves’ dog, Angel, was fatally attacked by a neighbor’s unleashed and unsupervised 100-pound Rottweiler, which had managed to get out of its crate and go out the back door of a home in a Four Hills Village neighborhood. Angel, an 11-pound terrier, had to be euthanized three days after the gut-wrenching attack, which occurred while Reeves was walking her 6-year-old pet.

There was a similar case in April, when two pit bulls and a boxer pulled Duncan, a 2-year-old Maltese, out of Jack Cash’s arms and killed the little pup in Ventana Ranch. Like Angel, Duncan was on a leash. Cash was bitten on the hand and leg. Again, the attacking dogs were unleashed and unsupervised, having escaped from their owner’s backyard.

This week, Mayor Richard Berry instructed his staff to prepare proposals that would strengthen Angel’s Law, a city ordinance designed to help protect the public from dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners.

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez on Tuesday 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’s a good move by Berry and something the City Council should be happy to agree to do, but it also would be a good idea if the city used all the enforcement tools at its disposal now along with some common sense and courtesy – like letting a victim know it is considering a plea deal in a dangerous dog case.

Hernandez promised better communication with victims of such attacks.

Angel’s law was named for a boy who was mauled in 2004 while trying to protect his little sister from a dog attack. It provides for the posting on a city website of the names and descriptions of dogs deemed dangerous by the city, along with their addresses. The law also allows for a finding by a hearing officer of “irresponsible owner,” which is someone deemed incapable or unable to safely or humanely own a dog.

The owner of the dogs that killed Duncan – Maria Escamilla – was declared an “irresponsible owner” after a hearing officer heard testimony. However, the dogs remain in her possession with some restrictions.

The Rottweiler’s owners didn’t get the same slap on the wrist from the city. They did reimburse Reeves about $1,889 for veterinary bills and apologized to her for the vicious, fatal attack by their dog.

Reeves said a neighbor later told her it wasn’t the Rottweiler’s first such encounter and that the owners also paid that vet’s bill in 2009 after the Rottweiler, Kera, attacked her poodle. The poodle owner never filed a report with the city’s Animal Welfare Department, but she brought records to a city administrative hearing involving the Rottweiler attack last month, seeking to show Kera was a repeat offender.

The owners’ lawyer, however, struck a plea deal. Kera was declared a “dangerous dog,” but the owners escaped the “irresponsible” tag.

Reeves and the other woman never got to tell their stories to the hearing officer, to their dismay and the public’s loss. Thus, the vicious dog – which neighbors say they hear slamming against windows trying to escape – remains in the Four Hills home.

The “dangerous” tag and listing on the website now warns potential passersby. But it didn’t until after the Journal’s story published on Monday about the Rottweiler case.

But should folks really be required to do an internet search before going for a walk on a public street?

“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.

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.