Pack of dogs near La Promesa causing problems

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Belen Schools administrators are on high alert due to a pack of dogs that reportedly mauled a small dog last month, roaming Veguita neighborhoods near La Promesa Elementary School, located in northern Socorro County.

The pack, ranging anywhere from four to 16 dogs, have been seen near school bus stops, but haven't gone onto campus yet, said Belen Superintendent Ron Marquez at the board of education's meeting this week.

"I don't want to be reactive to this. I want to be proactive," Marquez said. "We don't want to be here a week from now saying we should've, we could've."

Socorro County Sheriff's Deputy Ed Sweeney told the board the pack's owner, who wasn't named, was cited last week with having dogs at large and disturbing the peace, along with other charges, and is now awaiting a decision by Socorro Magistrate Jim Naranjo.

School administrators said they plan to ask Naranjo to move up the case on his docket to have the situation addressed quicker.

It will take a court order for law enforcement to enter private property to take care of the dogs, said Belen Board of Education member Larry Lindberg.

Although a chain-link fence surrounds the dog owner's property, the animals have dug holes in the sandy soil to go underneath the fence, Sweeney said. The dogs are also left unattended for long periods of times, since the owners "aren't there on a regular basis," he said.

If the dogs aren't being cared for properly, it doesn't surprise board President Sam Chavez that they would leave the home to go on the hunt for food and water.

"They're not going to be very particular — a small dog, horse, calves, lambs, children. That's the scary part, so we do have to be proactive about this thing. It is an emergency situation," Chavez said.

As the Socorro County animal control ordinance stands, the county can only cite animal owners, leaving officials with few options when such problems arise, Socorro County Manager Delilah Walsh told the board.

"We don't even have the personnel to take animals, much less (a place) to take them," Walsh said.

Since La Promesa is part of the Belen school district, Marquez said Valencia County Animal Control might be able to aid in rounding up the dogs.

"This is what I would consider an emergency situation that I think they would be willing to make sure they find the time to help," Marquez said.

The pack has been involved in two incidents, including attacking a dog in February, Sweeney said.

"We have no human attacks but that doesn't say it couldn't happen," he said.

Belen Schools District Health Services Coordinator Donna Alfonso, whose dog was mauled by the pack, said she's scared the dogs could attack a child the way they severely mauled her dog, 20 yards away from her home, which sits on 20 acres.

"They came out of nowhere, and they can do that to a child and that's what's really scary … and I pray to God that this doesn't happen to any kids," Alfonso said.

Lindberg alerted La Promesa Principal Joanne Silva of the situation after receiving a call on March 4 from a Las Nutrias resident about the dogs roaming the area.

Silva canceled the last recess for that day, since she didn't know how close the dogs were to the school, and asked staff to be on the look out for dogs near school grounds.

She then contacted the district's transportation department to ask bus drivers to avoid dropping off children in areas where they spot the pack, and notified the Socorro County Sheriff's Department that patrol the area.

"We definitely took this concern very seriously," Silva said.

School administrators and employees have patrolled school grounds in search of the dogs that may enter the property since there isn't a fence surrounding the area. A barbed-wire fence is located along the east side and a second fence around staff parking.

"When we fenced that, we probably thought it would be sufficient, but we probably need to look at placing one," Marquez said.

Maintenance supervisor Frank Ortega was to present a quote for such a fence to the district's construction committee on Thursday, Marquez said.

Upon monitoring the area, Lindberg said he did see four large dogs accompanied by two puppies.

"I don't believe they are being bad. I believe they're probably not getting proper water and food and going around (their owner's) fence to get some," he said.

After being a training manager for the U.S. Air Force and a U.S. Marshal deputy for 25 years, Lindberg said he's seen what dogs are capable of doing, which is why he was so vehement about reporting this situation.

"In the 1970s in Valencia County, we had a similar situation here … and no one did anything. Finally, the dogs mauled a child," Lindberg said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.