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City report upholds criticism of animal welfare

The city’s Office of Inspector General released its report on the operations of the city’s animal shelters, finding that dogs with behavior problems have been released into the public, jeopardizing public safety. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The city’s Office of Inspector General released its report on the operations of the city’s animal shelters, finding that dogs with behavior problems have been released into the public, jeopardizing public safety. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

An investigation by the city’s Office of Inspector General found the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department allowed dogs with problematic behavior to be adopted, and failed to give potential owners vital information about shelter dogs that ended up biting people and harming other pets.

A 38-page investigative report released Friday by the OIG also said the director of the city’s Animal Welfare Department was not “forthcoming” in providing information to the OIG about behaviorally unsafe dogs and those that pose a threat to the public and shelter staff.

The OIG also found that, in some cases, the listed breeds for dogs held at city shelters for weeks without being adopted were changed by department staff from pit bull to other types of dogs to make them more adoptable.

Even animal rescue groups were not always provided complete information about shelter dogs they received, the OIG reported.

The owner of one rescue organization, for example, was “quite upset” that she wasn’t given the full history of a shelter dog that should never have been released to the public. She discovered the background on the dog only through news media reports on the allegations that spurred the OIG inquiry, the report said.

BRUIN: Accused of withholding information (Morgan Petroski/Albuquerque Journal)

BRUIN: Accused of withholding information (Morgan Petroski/Albuquerque Journal)

The OIG affirmed allegations made March 27 by two top Animal Welfare managers, finding that the Animal Welfare Department had adopted out “problematic behavior” into the public.

“Many of the employees interviewed agreed that (Animal Welfare Department) was adopting out and transferring dogs that should never have been released out into the public,” says the report, which found that the department was in violation of the duty to the public section of the city’s personnel rules and regulations. Such dogs should not be adopted out, “not just for liability reasons, but for ethical reasons as well,” the OIG said.

The report also faulted Animal Welfare Director Barbara Bruin for failing to provide information collected about problematic shelter dogs to the OIG when it launched a preliminary inquiry into the matter earlier this year.

When the OIG asked the director about this, the report says, “she confirmed that she did want to avoid a full-blown investigation, given that (Animal Welfare Department) had already been through” a prior investigation by the OIG. The report didn’t elaborate on the nature of that inquiry.

“The Director of the Department is not allowed to withhold information or documents, even when she believes such information may be incomplete,” the OIG report said.

Failing to provide the Inspector General “full and unrestricted access” to records, information and data violates city ordinance, the report noted.

Bruin couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday.

The complaint to the OIG was filed with the OIG by Jim Ludwick, who had been second in command at the department, and animal program manager and behavior specialist Carolyn Hidalgo.

Hidalgo resigned to work in the private sector shortly after the complaint was lodged, and city officials moved Ludwick, a senior program analyst, out of the department’s office and removed most of his duties. He still is employed by the city and has filed a lawsuit seeking the results of a second, more detailed investigation into the matter by a private investigative firm hired by the city.

Reached late Friday, Ludwick said he was gratified by the OIG findings, adding, “Now we need to see the rest of the picture.”

The OIG report contained a response from the department and Bruin, which said that behavior assessment of dogs isn’t an exact science, “so errors are possible.”

Procedures are currently in place to ensure dogs that have shown to be a threat to other animals or people are not placed up for adoption, the response said.

And department director Bruin responded that she didn’t withhold information from the OIG. Information that had been collected by staff wasn’t provided because it was “irrelevant” and “would have been misleading,” her written response said.

The two employees, in their complaint to the OIG, cited the cases of 132 shelter dogs that were adopted out despite having failed behavior tests. About half of those owners have since been contacted by the city, and “not a single aggressive behavior issue has been found,” the department response said.

In its findings, the OIG noted instances in which several shelter dogs listed as Pit Bulls eventually had their breed listing changed to other types of dogs, such as Boxer, Labrador Retriever, Australian Cattle Dog, Siberian Husky and even Chow Chow.

In one case, a pit bull that had a history of biting a human had a name change, was adopted out, but was returned for being destructive. After nearly two months in a city shelter, the dog’s breed was changed in shelter records to show he was an Australian Cattle Dog.

Less than a month later, he was readopted at an adoption event in the city. But weeks later the dog was returned after getting loose and biting a neighborhood child. He was returned to the shelter and euthanized.