Local group is advocating an anti-chaining ban for dogs in the county

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A small group of local animal activists says the time has come for Valencia County to take a long hard look at how it treats its animals, especially with regards to chaining and tethering.

Mark Rosemblum, a frequent volunteer at the Valencia County Animal Shelter and with rescue groups around the county, said places such as Rio Rancho, Bernalillo County, Corrales and Albuquerque have tethering laws and guidelines in their ordinances.

"There is a big push from people in these communities," Rosenblum said. "They were very active and vocal."

Rosenblum, along with Magda Rundles and Andrea Morrissey, who are animal owners and lovers, say not only does the county need an anti-chaining ordinance, but it needs to look at how it deals with animals across the board.

Morrissey, who moved to the county's east side about seven years ago, said what she has observed is that dog ownership seems to be something of a cultural norm in Valencia County.

"Almost every house out here has a dog, usually more than one. Most of them in deplorable conditions — no water, no shade, no shelter — and chained," Morrissey said.

Not only does long-term chaining do physical harm to a dog but psychological damage as well, she said, referencing a dog brought into a Santa Fe shelter that was chained for so long and with such a heavy line, it's neck and spine had fused to support the weight.

Chained animals are usually isolated and get infrequent interaction with their owners, Rosenblum said.

"They need to be socialized," he said. "That's why it's important to have volunteers at the county animal shelter to walk the dogs and interact with them. This kind of attention keeps them socialized and ready for eventual adoption.

"The shelter is 110 percent better. The transfer rates are astounding," he added. "But we still need to do more, do better."

"People have the attitude of it's 'just a dog.' How do we change that attitude?" Morrissey wondered.

The group said there needs to be more education about basic animal care, additional outreach to the community, as well as consistent access to low-cost spay/neuter programs. In the past, the county has been able to bring in mobile clinics that drew about 120 people and their animals per trip, Rosenblum said.

"More of those would make the difference, but funding isn't available for them," he said.

Rundles said she would like to see local veterinarians volunteer their time for spay/neuter clinics.

"It's done in other communities," Rundles said. "Why can't we do it in Valencia County?"

Morrissey said she would like the county to develop an anti-chaining ordinance.

Speaking as only one commissioner, Valencia County Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said a no-chain ordinance was something that should be considered in Valencia County.

"We know these kinds of practices cause long-term damage. I think we can draft something that is reasonable and fair to the (owners) and still protects the animals from cruelty," Eaton said.

The group also alleged that when animal control officers pick up sick or injured animals, no veterinary care is given. Instead the animals are euthanized, suffering until they are put down, Morrissey said.

Right now, there are no county ordinances addressing chaining or restraining an animal, said Valencia County Animal Control Shelter Director Erik Tanner.

"In cases of animal cruelty it's what the officer deems harming to the animal," Tanner said. "But every single one that I can think of involved the officer going to the person and saying, 'That leash needs be longer,' and been resolved on site."

Tanner said there's a strong movement among animal advocacy groups to have no chaining at all.

"I think we need guidelines on how it should be done. I think it would be easy enough to make adjustments to the laws we have," he said.

When complaints are made about dogs being chained outside, often people want to see limitations placed on how much time the dog spends tied up, Tanner said.

"To put a specific amount of time in an ordinance is hard to enforce. Our officer would literally have to stand there to see if an owner left the animal chained too long," he said. "I am looking at amending the (county animal control) ordinance and tethering will be addressed."

The county doesn't have a veterinarian on staff, Tanner said, so when sick or injured animals are brought in, they are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Staff at the shelter perform what first aid they can, and if the injuries are serious enough, the animal is taken to a contract veterinarian in Los Lunas.

"We have taken many animals over to the vet to see if they are salvageable. That is something we used to not be able to do due to budget constraints," Tanner said.

But a visit to the vet doesn't always mean an instant sleek, shiny pet.

"Sometimes the vet is going to look at them, prescribe antibiotics and they can still be awful to look at," he said. And sometimes whether an animal receives veterinarian care is a function of finances. Tanner said the shelter recently had a cat with a compound fracture to its back leg that required amputation, a $600 procedure.

"I'm going to have a hard time justifying putting $600 in taxpayer dollars into a single cat," he said.

A vet assessment doesn't guarantee success either, Tanner said, noting a recent case with a great Pyrenees with a crushed pelvis and back legs.

"A rescue paid to have him assessed by a vet and he was still euthanized," he said.

Those vet assessments and treatments are paid out of the shelter's professional services budget, which varies between $60,000 and $80,000 a year. Those funds also pay for all spays and neuters done on animals in the shelter, as well as veterinarian evaluations of animals for court cases.

And when animals are transferred to another shelter, there are vet costs attached.

"Every animal that crosses a state line has to have a health certificate and that's a vet visit," Tanner said.

In April, the shelter transferred 107 animals to shelters in Salt Lake City and Idaho.

"Every animal has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Every time we have an injury, we don't rush them to the vet. We do a lot of pain management and first aid," Tanner said. "And a lot of times, euthanasia is the only merciful way out."

The shelter's euthanasia rate has dropped significantly in the last decade. At one time it was more than 70 percent. The 2013 rate was at a historical low of 41 percent.

Tanner knows many people think that's too high, but points out that if you only consider the healthy, adoptable animals, only 10 percent of those animals were euthanized.

"If someone dropped off a healthy, well-adjusted animal, it has a very good chance of being adopted," he said. "But there are those that we just can't save."


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