Let’s make it clear. I’m an animal lover, particularly of my 11-year-old rescue dog. In fact, one of my first columns published on Nov. 8, 2015, in The Optic was called “In the Back Yard with Java” and described our pup being transplanted from the concrete of Chicago to real live grass.
Since then Mark, Java and I have taken hundreds of walks. Java likes Veteran’s Park, Melody Park, Carnegie Park, Lincoln Park, Plaza Park and Harris Pond to sniff out her doggy colleagues and do her business from her. She thanks to the City for doggie poop bags.
We love the Gallinas River Park path except when a free-range dog without collar or tags confronts us. Sometimes the dog can be down right threatening. What do we do when approached by a stray and potentially vicious dog? We turn around and leave.
Now I know to call 505-425-7504, extension one. Saturday morning I met Dispatcher Ann Marie Armijo at Conversations with Cops at Starbucks. What a lively way to converse with our community. Ann Marie explained that calls are taken from 8-5 Monday-Friday. Of course, we know dogs don’t keep to a schedule. In a real emergency, a dispatcher will try to get a Community Service Aide (CSA) to the scene.
Over the last eight years Las Vegas has had 19 Animal Control Officers, but as Police Chief Antonio Salazar told me, “This is a new administration. We are working to remedy this situation. Justin Marquez is a qualified Animal Control Officer but he’s now doing Code Enforcement.”
That’s unless he’s called in to help Kevin Duran and Chris Lujan, who are our two CSAs. They are not certified Animal Control Officers but are being cross-trained as a temporary measure.
When I mention that I’m writing on this subject, people say: “How can the police insist that keeping a dog outside in freezing temperatures isn’t animal abuse?”
“These dogs roam in packs and consume the food and water left for our dog who sleeps inside.”
“Dogs just get dumped at the parking lot at Walmart.”
When I ask for details, I hear: “Don’t quote me by name.”
As long as people remain anonymous and don’t report stray dogs, nothing will change.
Marshall Poole, Chairman of the Board at AWC says, “A recent study reports that our AWC takes in one dog for every 23 Las Vegas residents. By comparison, in Fairfax, Virginia, the rate is one dog to every 382 residents.”
OK, we’re not a suburb of Washington DC, but I find that statistical shocking on its own.
What can we citizens do? We need to get proactive by calling 505-425-7504, extension one. We need to take responsibility for our pets. Did you know that dogs and cats must be vaccinated against rabies?
Our city ordinance says:
(§118-7) It is the duty of all persons owning or keeping a dog or cat over the age of five months to have such animals vaccinated against rabies. (You can read the entire ordinance on the city’s website: lasvegasnm.gov.)
Deputy Chief Caleb Marquez, Deputy Chief of Police says, “We want to create a more responsible animal community including rabies vaccinations and pet licensing. Even if you’re a good pet owner, your dog may get away. That’s why you should get your pet chipped.”
A microchip is a small, electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice. If your pet wanders off or is stolen and then found, any shelter or veterinarian can scan the chip and track the rightful owner.
Marquez said, “If we had a wand that could read the chip, we could immediately determine the dog’s owner and home.” I have learned the city does have such a wand or did at one time.
With the city’s cooperation, Las Vegas could be the “lead dog” in animal welfare throughout the entire state of New Mexico. Jane Lumsden insists, “There is no reason why a community like ours that has such love for our pets can’t be advocates for the care and well-being for all animals in our community.”
What about being bitten by a dog?
Here’s our ordinance: (§118-9). The owner of an animal that bites a person and a person bitten by an animal shall report that occurrence to the City and the State Health Department within 24 hours. The owner of an animal that bites a person shall surrender said animal to the Animal Control Officer if the City deems it necessary to impose said animal for a period of observation. (Read more online.)
Although it’s not stated in the city ordinance, you should go to the ER, get the wound treated and a tetanus vaccine if yours isn’t up to date. (You need a booster every decade.) That was an eye-opener for me. I thought tetanus vaccinations were just to protect you if you stepped on a rusty nail. Not so. Did you know that if you get bitten by a rabid dog, it is fatal without treatment?
Where does our Animal Welfare Coalition fit into this picture? Under contract to the City, their mandate is not to retrieve and bring back dogs and cats to their facility. It is the city’s responsibility to catch dogs. The AWC accepts animals brought in by the city. Last year they spent more than $14,000 on vaccines, not including rabies. For every incoming animal they administer appropriate vaccines as required by the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Last year AWC provided more than 500 free spay/neutering procedures. If you want to provide for your pet’s wellbeing, you can register with AWC for free spay/neutering which includes a rabies shot and microchipping.
The AWC is overcrowded as are all shelters across the country because of the pandemic and because people are irresponsible. Despite the pressures of Covid, the AWC has a live outcome rate of 96.9 percent which means that they place almost 100 percent of the dogs they receive. “However,” Marshall Poole insists, “we cannot ‘adopt our way’ out of this dilemma. There are far too many unwanted animals in Las Vegas and San Miguel County to adopt all locally.”
Some dogs are driven to Colorado because the AWC has the approval of the Colorado Department of Agriculture to transport animals to shelters there.
If you’re thinking of adopting a dog, please visit the AWC and take a look. Then you have to fill out a form. Your new pet will be micro-chipped with all vaccines in order. If you already have a dog who wants a companion, you can arrange to bring your pet to the shelter and they will do a meet and greet to ensure your four-legged friends are compatible.
Please don’t think I’m ignoring our community cats who also have overwhelming concerns. I’ll write about them in a future column.
As I know from City Manager Leo Maestas, our City is in the process of updating the Request for Proposals for animal shelter services. State procurement does not allow the city to automatically extend the Animal Welfare Coalition contract. Mayor Louie Trujillo says: “This issue is on the front burner. The city has staffing shortages and is working to find temporary, but solid, solutions to the animal issues.”
Get in touch with Mayor Trujillo, City Manager Leo Maestas, Police Chief Antonio Salazar and Deputy Police Chief Caleb Marquez to let them know what you think. Go to lasvegasnm.gov for their phone numbers and emails to address them directly. You can send me an email: [email protected] or write to The Optic.
I can envision an on-going forum in The Optic dealing with animal welfare and well-being because our four-legged critters trust us to stand up for them.
Beth Urech is a contributing writer, traveler, and artist of the spoken word, performing both nationally and internationally. She lives in Las Vegas, NM, with her husband, Mark, and dog, Java. Follow Beth at bethurech.wordpress.com. She may be reached by email at [email protected]