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Benton calls for release of dangerous dog report

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City Councilor Isaac Benton is urging Mayor Richard Berry to take two immediate steps the councilor said could reduce the number of dangerous dogs in Albuquerque and better inform the public about what’s been happening behind the scenes at the city’s Animal Welfare Department.

First, the mayor should increase the insurance requirement for owners of dogs declared dangerous from $100,000 to $1.5 million, Benton said at a small news conference at a city animal shelter Sunday afternoon.

He said this change will make it less attractive to owners to adopt or keep animals deemed to be dangerous by the city’s Animal Welfare Department.

Second, the councilor asked that the city immediately release a taxpayer-funded report by a private investigator, Robert Caswell Investigations, which did a report on the department’s practices for adopting animals that failed behavioral tests or that could have been aggressive.

The mayor’s spokeswoman said in a statement Sunday evening that Berry maintains that the report should not be released to the public.

Animal Welfare Department Director Barbara Bruin came under heavy criticism in a complaint to the city Office of Inspector General, which alleged that as part of an ongoing practice, 132 dangerous dogs were allowed to be adopted from the city shelter last year, despite failing a nationally standardized behavior test administered by the shelter. Another 83 were returned to their owners by the city shelter, the complaint said.

In some cases, before or after being adopted, the dogs hurt people, including shelter staff, and killed family pets. The accusations were leveled by Jim Ludwick, the second-in-command at the agency, and its outgoing behavior therapist, Carolyn Hidalgo.

In addition to the Inspector General’s investigation, the city also ordered the investigation by the Caswell firm. But the city has denied the Journal’s request for the Caswell report under the state Inspection of Public Records Act, contending the report can be kept confidential because the inquiry was commissioned in “anticipation of litigation.”

Benton said the documents relate to public interests and policies and should not be withheld.

“To me, this has to do with policy and straight-up records,” he said at the news conference. “This has nothing to do with litigation.”

Benton also pointed to two recent dog attacks as reason that the city needs to act decisively. A small family dog was recently attacked and killed in Four Hills Village while on a walk with its owner, and in April another family dog was killed, both by dogs that had previously had encounters with the city over dangerous behavior.

“We’re talking about dangerous animals that have harmed kids, other dogs,” he said.

Berry’s spokeswoman said in a statement Sunday evening that the mayor is working to beef up the city’s dangerous dog ordinance and disagreed with Benton that the report should be released.

“Mayor Berry has instructed the professionals at the City Attorney’s Office to determine what we can do to toughen the existing ordinance. We want to thank Councilor Benton for joining us as we continue to toughen public safety laws to protect our families and pets from dangerous dogs,” spokeswoman Rhiannon Schroder said in a statement. “We hope the councilor understands and respects the city attorney’s position to keep the RCI report an attorney work product in anticipation of litigation.”

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