Albuquerque Steps Up Its Efforts To Move The City To No Kill

In 2006 Albuquerque passed a comprehensive ordinance dubbed the Albuquerque Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment (HEART) Ordinance.

Not many animal ordinances are known by such a charming acronym. In fact, I don’t know of any others.

The ordinance was hailed by some as a progressive step towards a no kill community, a recognition as the ordinance stated, “that the people of Albuquerque should treat animals as more than just lifeless inanimate chattel property and that the relationship between human beings and animals is a special relationship that improves people’s lives and reflects basic humanitarian beliefs.§9-2-1-2 (B).

Others decried the new law as an example of over regulation and government intrusion. It was thought the law would require a great deal of resources to administer and enforce. After all, the new ordinance requires owners to clean up poop from their pets!

Unlike most animal control ordinances which tend to be fairly matter of fact and, well, boring, Albuquerque’s ordinance includes some remarkable observations. The city council wrote into the ordinance the City has the responsibility to protect animals in the City and that the way a community responds to its animals reflects how that community responds to its citizens.§ 9-2-1-2. (A) The Council further finds that the public mind-set toward animals must shift to the more progressive, humane, and compassionate attitude evident in other jurisdictions with stricter animal laws.§ 9-2-1-2 (C)

The city claims shelter euthanasia rates have been cut in half. According to the Albuquerque Animal Services, shelter adoptions are way up. The city has hired more animal control officers to educate the public and enforce the new ordinance provisions.

But the mayor, Martin J. Chavez, who regularly takes his dog to work, has mobilized volunteers, local rescues and citizens in his effort to move the city to no kill. The mayor’s 4th Annual Dog Ball is set for February 10, 2007 in honor of Have a Heart for Animals Month. The mayor has started a Save a Pet Campaign with local restaurants. Then there is the foster program, training, and the list goes on. For more information on Albuquerque’s efforts to go no kill, visit this site.

It should be noted some studies have established mandatory spay/neuter laws have not reduced shelter intake and euthanasia rates, that it is preferable to have government funded voluntary spay/neuter services together with aggressive adoption programs. Regardless, Albuquerque’s ordinance offers both: mandatory spay/neuter and government funded spay/neuter services together with mandatory micro chipping, breeder regulations, a lost and found program, extended time during which animals must be kept alive at the shelter, an aggressive adoption program, stiffer anti-cruelty measures and minimum standards for the care of animals.

Role of Spay/Neuter

The ordinance includes the following pronouncements regarding spay/neuter: “The Council finds that spayed and neutered animals are less likely to run loose, bark excessively, and endanger the public and other animals. Most importantly, altered animals do not add to the animal overpopulation problem. Altered animals are less likely to end up at animal shelters that have no other option but to destroy those animals. §9-2-1-2(H) The Council finds that companion animal over-population in the City endangers animals and human beings. Animal overpopulation requires taxpayers to bear the burden of caring for tens of thousands of unwanted or lost animals. In 2005, the City was forced to euthanize an average of 300 unwanted dogs and cats a week. We must lower the overwhelming supply of animals bringing it in line with the much lower demand. §9-2-1-2(I).

The ordinance by its own admission then sets forth an aggressive scheme to license, microchip and spay/neuter companion animals. The ordinance is blunt in declaring, Mandatory spay and neuter laws will help stop animal overpopulation.§9-2-1-3(A)

The ordinance demands animal control provide public education on the importance of spay/neuter. §9-2-1-3(B)

All dogs older than six months and cats more than five months old must be micro-chipped and spayed/neutered unless owners pay an annual fee of $150 for an unaltered pet and obtain an intact companion animal permit. §§9-2-2-1(C, 9-2-2-1(G), 9-2-4-3, 9-2-3-6, 9-2-3-16. There can be no more than four unaltered dogs or cats per residence, however. §9-2-3-6(B).

If any of the animals are impounded twice for any reason, the permit is deemed revoked and they must be spayed/neutered. §9-2-3-6(D).

If the owners breed the intact animal, they must then first obtain a Litter Permit at a cost of $150 prior to the birth of a litter. §§9-2-3-6(E), 9-2-3-7, 9-2-4-3. There is another $150 fee for every new litter. No more than four Litter Permits may be issued per household per year. §§9-2-3-7(C, 9-2-3-16.

The ordinance sets up a scheme to track breeding and pet sales. Puppies and kittens may not be sold to a pet store, animal broker or other animal dealer. Notably, the Litter permit number must be listed in all advertisements and records of sales of companion animals. Records must be kept of the animals including their veterinary care, vaccinations, licensing, chipping, and sales.

As with all permit holders, a person applying for a Litter Permit must complete an application and comply with inspection requirements.§§9-2-3-7, 9-2-3-3 through 9-2-3-5. There are similar licensing and permitting requirements for pet stores and kennels. §§9-2-3-12

Anyone seeking any permit under the ordinance must complete an application, pay the applicable fees and submit to an inspection. The ordinance has record keeping requirements particularly for breeders and pet stores and reserves the right of the mayor to require inspections at any time though, if there is no search warrant, permit holders can refuse access and schedule the inspection at a convenient time or offer to submit evidence of compliance in some other way such as at a hearing. There are provisions requiring permittees to display the permits for public viewing. §§9-2-3-3 through 9-2-3-5. There are provisions for a hearing and an appeal in the event of citations or efforts to suspend or revoke a permit. §9-2-7-1.

The ordinance creates the Albuquerque Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment (HEART) Ordinance Fund: 60% of all net License and Permit fees collected under the Albuquerque HEART Ordinance are deposited in the Fund for free low and moderate income micro-chipping and spay/neuter. §9-2-3-16.

Role of Animal Control and Public Animal Shelters

The ordinance sets standards for the public animal shelters. First, the shelter is not called a shelter or the pound but rather the “Albuquerque Animal Care Center (AACC). Under the law AACC must not only maintain[] exemplary standards of humane animal care, but promote[] community education regarding humane animal care”.

Significantly, the ordinance makes clear it is equally important that the staff of the AACC reach out to the community in positive ways such as putting forward friendly, helpful customer service including serious efforts to reunite lost animals with their owners and facilitate successful adoptions. It is the duty of all AACC employees to protect all animals in Albuquerque from neglect and abuse and to protect the public from the dangers and nuisance that are possible when irresponsible owners do not take care of their animals according to the requirements set forth in this ordinance. Many animal neglect cases can be beneficially resolved through mediation and counseling. The AACC shall endeavor to provide such counseling.§9-2-1-3(B)

The ordinance actually states AACC facilities are not just a series of holding pens where animals are incarcerated for doing something wrong. The AACC will humanely and compassionately care for animals housed at the AACC facilities by providing a safe haven for animals while trying to reunite lost animals with their owners or find new successful adoptive homes for the animals at AACC. The employees of the AACC shall be advocates for animals.§9-2-1-3(C. The ordinance authorized a Lost and Found program, information about which is on the city’s website. The ordinance recognizes the importance of helping people find lost animals that may have ended up in the shelter.

A Safe Haven from euthanasia is also created under the ordinance. Animals must be held at least ten days including two weekends before they may be euthanized.

For more on programs offered by AACC, visit this site.

Anti-Tethering or Anti-Chaining

Interestingly, the City Council noted in the ordinance, “Many dogs spend much of their lives alone in yards or restrained by ropes or chains. Dogs that are restrained by chaining or tethering are more likely to create barking problems, are more likely to be aggressive toward humans and other animals, and are more likely to run away and end up in animal shelters that have no choice but to euthanize them. The Council is opposed to the restraint of companion animals by ropes or chains and is also opposed to owners, who refuse to provide adequate care or supervision for companion animals in their charge.§ 9-2-1-2 (G)

Under the new ordinance dogs may not be left chained at a residence with no one in attendance for more than one hour each day. The chain must be attached to a harness on the animal, not simply wrapped around the animal’s neck. The chain must be at least 12 feet long, weigh no more than 1/8 of the animal’s weight and have a swivel on both ends. Further, there must be a barrier around the chained animal to protect it from at large animals and prevent children from coming too close. §9-2-2-2(D)(3).

Chaining is prohibited any place that is not a residence. §9-2-2-4(C(3).

Owners of animals kept at residences can apply for a trolley permit pursuant to which a dog may be kept on a trolley for up to 9 hours each day. Here also, when on the trolley, the animal must be surrounded by a barrier to protect it from at large animals and also to prevent children from any danger. A trolley permit must be renewed annually and costs $25 per animal. §§9-2-2-2(D)(4), 9-2-3-16. Trolleys are not allowed at non-residential facilities. §9-2-2-4(C(4).

Animal Cruelty

The ordinance advances this belief: Some jurisdictions have abandoned the common law rule of categorizing animals as chattel property, subject to the complete discretion of the owner. These progressive jurisdictions have expanded the role of government to include protecting animals from unfettered callous acts that cause pain or suffering. Under this modern, progressive view, the state can obtain warrants to search property based on probable cause pertaining to cruelty or neglect of an animal and enter property without a warrant based on exigent circumstances to seize an animal that is in need of emergency medical care. The Council finds that this progressive approach is appropriate for the City. §9-2-1-2(J)

The ordinance also recognize the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence including child and elder abuse. The Council stated,[A]nimal abuse has a direct and significant correlation with domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse. The Council finds that there are several obvious indicators of animal abuse and neglect that should be much more vigorously investigated and prosecuted by the City in order to help uncover other abuse occurring in the family. In many abuse situations the victim is not willing to leave behind an animal that will almost certainly become the next victim of abuse. Although domestic violence and emergency shelters provide an invaluable service, they are not able to accept animals. The AACC is in the position to help with this problem.§9-2-1-2(K)

The ordinance goes on to call on judges to enforce animal cruelty laws to the fullest extent of the law, to treat animal abuse as a serious offense §9-2-1-2(L).

The ordinance then contains detailed provisions for the care of animals. The Council states very succinctly, The focus of this ordinance is the prevention of cruelty, harm, suffering, abandonment or death of animals caused by irresponsible pet owners and the criminal acts of callous individuals.§9-2-1-3(A) The ordinance leaves little doubt about the care required for animals by owners, breeders, pet stores, kennels, and grooming parlors.§§9-2-2-1 through 9-2-2-5.

The basic grooming requirement is remarkable: Basic Grooming is necessary to maintain the eyes, ears, beaks, hooves, feet and skin of an Animal in healthy condition. Basic Grooming includes making sure that the toenails or hooves are not so long as to cause the Animal not to be able to move normally or to cause pain to the Animal. Basic grooming also includes providing the Animal with whatever the Animal needs for self-grooming. No Animal shall be allowed to have a coat that is matted to the point that it becomes so heavy as to cause skin irritation or trap fecal matter. The Animal shall not be so dirty as to provide a home for parasites and insects. No Animal shall be allowed to have foreign objects imbedded in its skin or hair other than the required Microchip for Companion Animals. Boarding Kennels are not required to provide Basic Grooming for boarded Animals.§§9-2-2-1(E); 9-2-2-3.

It would be difficult to operate a puppy or cat mill or backyard breeding operation in Albuquerque. At least that is the hope. Not only are there explicit requirements for cleanliness for animals at residences, breeders, kennels, pet stores, and shelters, there are provisions animals must be sheltered in areas with particular square footage depending on the size of the animals and have access to “flat floor space and room for exercise. There must be no overcrowding.

Animals kept in residences must be given more room indoors than those held in pet stores or kennels or other non-residential facilities.

Crating is banned as a means of confining an animal outdoors.

Animals held in pet stores, kennels, and shelters cannot be kept at all in cages or stackable cages with wire mesh bottoms. §§9-2-2-1, 9-2-2-2, 9-2-2-3, 9-2-2-4 Birds must be able to extend their wings and have “at least two perches of different circumferences available to them”.

The ordinance details requirements for food, water, shelter, veterinary care, temperature, fresh air, lighting, and safety including during transport.§§9-2-2-1, 9-2-2-2, 9-2-2-3, 9-2-2-4, 9-2-2-6.

Cruelty is broadly defined as “any act or inaction that causes, is known to cause or is calculated to cause physical or psychological pain, injury, damage or harm to an Animal.§§9-2-4-1, 9-2-4-2. The more specifically the crime is described, the easier it is for law enforcement to enforce. And, Albuquerque’s HEART Ordinance attempts to set forth very specific acts or omissions which will be deemed cruel. §9-2-1-4.

The anti-cruelty provisions include a ban on cockfighting which was recently made illegal throughout New Mexico. The ordinance also tries to improve the enforcement of laws against animal fighting by detailing more specifically acts that can constitute animal fighting. §§9-2-1-4, 9-2-4-8.

The Albuquerque law is more specific than the state animal cruelty law in setting forth acts deemed cruel. The state law merely generally describes cruelty to animals as “negligently mistreating, injuring, killing without lawful justification or tormenting an animal; or abandoning or failing to provide necessary sustenance to an animal under that person’s custody or control. N.M. Stat. § 30-18-1

Also, a person can be charged for animal cruelty under both state law and the Albuquerque ordinance, theoretically increasing the sentence. The crime is a misdemeanor, though, for the first three offenses for which the violator is subject only to a fine of no more than $1000 and one year in jail. For the fourth and subsequent offenses of animal cruelty and for acts of extreme cruelty, the penalty is a fine of no more than $5000 and 18 months imprisonment. Any act of “extreme cruelty is governed, however, by state law. Extreme cruelty is defined as the intentional or malicious torture, mutilation, injury, poisoning or killing of an animal with certain exceptions for hunting, fishing, farm practices, rodeos, animal research, and pest control. N.M. Stat. § 30-18-1.

On any conviction for animal cruelty the court can order counseling.

In enforcing the local animal cruelty law, animal control or law enforcement are not required to witness violations before taking steps to stop it.

Any act of cruelty creates a lien by the city against the injured animal. There are provisions allowing seizure or confiscation and placement of the animal in protective custody. §9-2-4-1.

The law combines the view animals are property with the idea as stated in the ordinance that they are also sentient beings with intrinsic rights. The ordinance is very clear that permits are not a property right but a privilege that can be “revoked, suspended, conditioned or limited” by the city.