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Berry wants stronger law on dangerous dogs

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry unveiled proposed legislation Friday to toughen the city’s 10-year-old dangerous dog law by requiring that city animal welfare officers seek court orders to immediately seize dogs found to have killed or seriously harmed animals or people.

The offending dogs would be held at city animal shelters until a hearing officer rules on whether the dog should become the permanent property of the city.

“What I asked my legal team to do, is this notion of, can we just make it more difficult to be an irresponsible owner of a dangerous dog?” Berry told the Journal on Friday. He said he expects a “robust discussion” once the council takes up the issue in the coming weeks.

The proposed changes have been under study by city staff for months after two high-profile fatal attacks on small dogs that were being walked by their owners on leash in Four Hills Village on the eastern edge of the city and in Ventana Ranch on the West Side.

“I hear a lot from our community, even at the grocery store and the neighborhoods I talk to, people get really worried when one of the neighbors has a dangerous dog,” Berry said.

The two attacks, first reported by the Journal, were unprovoked and led to city civil determinations last summer that the dogs were dangerous. Criminal petty misdemeanor charges also were filed against the owners for having their dogs off leash.

DUNCAN: Suffered fatal attack in April

DUNCAN: Suffered fatal attack in April

ANGEL: Killed on walk in May

ANGEL: Killed on walk in May

In one case, the owners of a dog that attacked and killed a terrier mix named Angel on May 6 in Four Hills Village, were ordered to install a security door.

In the other case involving a Maltese mix named Duncan who was killed by three neighborhood dogs on April 27, the owner was convicted of violating city leash laws and has yet to be sentenced.

To date, the dogs in both cases have been allowed to remain at home and no efforts were made by the city to try to seize them.

They are among the 87 dogs whose names and addresses are posted on a city website as having been declared dangerous under the city’s “Angel’s Law,” which was enacted during administration of Mayor Martin Chavez in 2005.

It’s not illegal to own a dangerous dog in the city, but owners must keep their dogs leashed while off their property, keep a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance, and permit inspections of the property by the city.

Berry said there was discussion about increasing the $100,000 minimum but ultimately that was rejected as being punitive on lower income dog owners.

“What do you say? We’re only going to have rich people with dangerous dogs?” Berry said.

Berry said the proposed changes would remove some of the discretion on the part of city animal welfare officers who typically respond to attacks on family pets and people, but seldom go to court to seize offending dogs.

Animal welfare officers have said judges usually frown on seizures of dangerous dogs under the theory that under state law, dogs are personal property of their owners.

Berry said even if a dog is seized by the city, it wouldn’t necessarily be euthanized. Some dogs might be transferred to certain animal rescue organizations that cater to such dogs, and wouldn’t adopt them out.

Victims react

“We’re excited that we’re moving forward with updates for the law,” said Jennifer Braziel, whose dog, Duncan, was killed April 27 while on a walk in Ventana Ranch. “The goal is hopefully other people won’t have to go through what we’ve been through.”

Like Braziel, Betty Reeves of Four Hills Village said she was still reviewing the details of the proposed changes on Friday.

“But I appreciate that the Mayor took the time to look at this. He’s got so much on his plate,” said Reeves. She was walking her dog Angel on May 6 when a neighborhood Rottweiler who had escaped from its home chased down her dog Angel and fatally attacked the small dog in front of Reeves’ home.

Key changes

Some of the changes outlined in the proposed amendment include:

  • When an unprovoked dog kills a person or another animal, the Animal Welfare Department will immediately ask the court to seize the dog from its owners, thus becoming the property of the Department if the Hearing Officer upholds that finding.
  • When an unprovoked dog harms a person or another animal, the Animal Welfare Department will immediately ask the court to seize the dog. A city hearing officer will have the authority to decide if the dog will become the permanent property of the department or will return it to the owner with significant restrictions. Should the dog attack again, the dog will become the permanent property of the Animal Welfare Department.
  • The city will offer a 311 app to give the public the ability to report dangerous dogs with a touch of a button. When a report is made, an alert is sent to Animal Welfare officers to open an investigation into that dog.