“Practices that put the public at risk from dangerous dogs”
ALBUQUERQUE––City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department second-in-command Jim Ludwick and animal welfare program manager and behavior specialist Carolyn Hidalgo have alleged in parallel written complaints to Albuquerque city inspector general Peter Pacheco that Albuquerque animal welfare director Barbara Bruin has boosted the “live release rate” from city shelters through practices that put the public at risk from dangerous dogs.
Behavior specialist resigned
Hidalgo punctuated her complaint by resigning.
“We are putting this as a priority case to be looked into further,” Pacheco told Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild.
“Public safety is our number one priority,” Bruin told Heild in a telephone interview. “We try to get every adoptable dog out alive, but we do euthanize several dogs a day for behavior issues.”
Bruin told Heild that the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department handled 11,894 dogs in 2014.
Lienda & Pappy
Opened Ludwick in his written complaint, “Eight years ago, a little dog named Lienda was turned over to a city animal shelter,” because her family could not afford veterinary care that was needed to save her life. Albuquerque city veterinarian John Romeo saved Lienda, however, and she was “quickly adopted into a loving home.”
“Three months ago,” Ludwick continued, “Lienda was horribly killed by a pit bull named Pappy, who had recently been released from a city animal shelter despite a history of aggression and repeatedly failing behavioral tests. During the attack, Pappy also bit Lienda’s owner.
“After the killing, Pappy was returned to the animal shelter,” Ludwick testified, “and I personally put him on a euthanasia list for public safety reasons. However, by the end of the day, Pappy had been removed from the euthanasia list on orders of the department director [Bruin]. Later, the director approved giving Pappy to a rescue group, who recently arranged for Pappy to be adopted.”
“Killed by Animal Welfare Department”
Continued Ludwick, “The director [Bruin] does not believe Pappy should be blamed for the killing, because he simply is a dog with high prey drive, she says. The biting of Lienda’s owner should also not be held against Pappy, because it was a secondary attack when the woman interfered with Pappy’s understandable prey drive, the director says. Also, the Animal Welfare Department is not responsible for the fact that Pappy is back in our community, because we had nothing to do with the adoption; it was the work of the rescue group, she says. My own view is that precious little Lienda was killed by the Animal Welfare Department. Pappy was merely the instrument of our negligence, public endangerment and dereliction of duty. The same thing will be true of any further tragedy that results from Pappy’s return to our community. The irony,” Ludwick emphasized, “is that sparing Pappy did not even produce a net savings of a life. We can pretend we saved a dog, but another dog died instead of Pappy, and the death was not through humane euthanasia.”
Summarized Ludwick, “Pappy was one of 215 dogs who left our animal shelters last year after failing a national standard behavioral test [the American SPCA-developed SAFER test] that reveals dangerous tendencies. Eighty-three of those dogs were reclaimed by their owners; there is little we can do about the reclaim of owned pets. But 100 of the dogs were adopted into households, and 32 of the dogs, like Pappy, were turned over to rescue groups. The live exits accounted for 18% of all behavioral test failures. Still another dog who failed the behavioral test is listed on our kennel records as ‘missing.’
“Mistakes have been made”
“In the past several years,” Ludwick said, “our department has achieved successes on many fronts, and there are good reasons for the staff and the public to be pleased. But in reducing our euthanasia rate, mistakes have been made, and not enough has been learned from those mistakes. Our responsibility is not just to the animals staring us in the face as they stand in our cages. We have a responsibility to the animals and children who are out of sight and out of mind,” Ludwick stressed, “as we consider whether we will unleash dogs like Pappy. I believe our department has been negligent in handling that responsibility.”
Ludwick has sounded the alarm before about alleged city negligence involving dangerous dogs.
“A little over two years ago,” Ludwick recalled, “a news reporter inquired about our practices…The reporter had been told that our department was not vigorously checking to see if the owners of dangerous dogs were maintaining the insurance coverage that is required by law. As I looked into the issue, I discovered a much wider array of problems. our department had been doing almost nothing to keep track of dangerous dogs. The department did not even have a clear understanding of which dogs throughout the city had been designated as dangerous. There was no tabulation of such dogs in our paper files or computer records, except for a list on our web site, which was significantly incomplete and inaccurate. We did not have the database that was required under city law. We did not have some the information that would be needed to create the required database. We had no evidence that owners of dangerous dogs had continued to maintain their insurance policies, if they ever had insurance coverage in the first place. In cases where we knew about dangerous dogs, some of the dogs had not been checked for years. When this problem came to light, officers were assigned to systematically locate and review every dog on our web list, and the officers found previously undetected problems in a huge majority of the cases. There were vacant homes, insurance shortcomings, missing dogs, people who had moved, people who said they had given the dangerous dogs to new owners.
“Failed to protect public”
“My conclusion,” Ludwick recounted, “was that our department had failed to protect the public from dangerous dogs in the manner envisioned by lawmakers. I duly reported everything I have stated here, and I attempted to identify responsible parties within our department so we could pursue discipline. No one was ever disciplined.
“Separately,” Ludwick continued, “I recommended that we increase the amount of insurance that is required when people keep dangerous dogs. I contended that the insurance requirement was too low to indemnify victims in the event of a tragedy. My proposal drew support from the city’s Risk Management Division, but the insurance requirement was never changed. I continue to believe it enables irresponsible ownership of dangerous dogs and it adds to the risk for innocent families, especially when combined with animal-shelter practices that are putting vicious dogs back into the community.”
Ludwick summarized 14 recent cases involving dangerous dogs who were returned to the Albuquerque community despite staff recommendations that the dogs should be euthanized. Eight of the 14 cases involved pit bulls.
In perhaps the most egregious case, Ludwick recalled that “A pit bull named Mugsy Malone was officially declared dangerous even before he attacked a 3-year-old girl. The dog has twice come and gone from our animal shelters. The attack on the child was not enough to warrant euthanasia under our practices. Neither was the fact that Mugsy Malone killed a small dog, and also bit a man in our own facility. Mugsy Malone went on to injure a shelter volunteer, but was transferred to Fur & Feathers Animal Assistance of Pie Town. There he injured the two founders of the organization.”
Finished Ludwick, “A decade ago, I stood with Mayor Martin Chavez at the hospital bedside of Angel Martinez. Angel, 10 years old, had saved his little sister when she was attacked by two large dogs. His heroism carried a terrible price: more than 30 bites and a mauling that could have ended his life. Chavez said he would develop a new law aimed at regulating the ownership of dangerous dogs. The mayor kept his promise, and now there is a city ordinance known as ‘Angel’s Law,’” but the law has been poorly enforced, while the focus of Albuquerque Animal Services has drifted from protecting public safety.
“We cannot let them leave”
Said Ludwick, “It is the nature of government that we can improve our animal shelter statistics by releasing volatile dogs, even as we are discussing why we will be blameless when the dogs predictably attack beloved pets. It is not a success, and it is not responsible, if we show sympathy for the dogs we see in person at our animal shelters, but have no concern for creatures we do not actually meet: pets and children, out of sight and out of mind, who might pay the price if we unleash the dogs we should euthanize for public safety reasons. There are people who see these volatile dogs and want to save them all. I say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I do not insist that we hate the dangerous dogs in our animal shelters. Love them, mourn for them and hold them blameless. But we cannot let them leave.”
With his complaint, Ludwick told Pacheco, “I am providing 1,079 internal memos, along with 190 pages of basic kennel records, that shed light on every instance last year when a dog was adopted or given to a rescue group after failing a standard behavioral test. I am proud to be joined in this effort by Carolyn Hidalgo, our department’s principal expert on dog behavior, who is providing her own statement separately.”
Hidalgo’s statement, while much shorter, was not less critical.
“Under the leadership of Barbara Bruin,” Hidalgo wrote, “the city animal shelters have released many dogs into the community that were unsafe and should have been euthanized. This has created risk, especially for small pets and children, and in some cases there has been real harm.
“I have had many conversations with Ms. Bruin,” Hidalgo stated, “and in my view she does not have sufficient concern for public safety. She has urged me to change evaluations of animals and withhold information from memos and e-mails, to disguise the risk associated with certain dogs and to reduce the chance that the public will learn various facts. On occasion, she has called me on my cell phone or my office phone to reprimand me for disclosing negative information about individual dogs in various public records.
“The presence of the unsafe dogs in our animal shelters,” Hidalgo charged, “has added to crowding and has created danger for employees, volunteers and animals. There have been dogfights, injuries to animals that were serious enough to require surgery, and injuries to people within our own facilities, such as a recent episode when a dog bit off the finger of a woman who was in one of our kennel buildings.”
Specifically, said Hidalgo, “Ms. Bruin complains about the trained staff members who evaluate dogs, saying that our staff members are setting the dogs up for failure because they point out problems that would have a bearing on the safety of adoptions. She irrationally sides with volunteers, against career professionals, on issues where the volunteers are relatively unconcerned about public safety. In some cases, she has allowed volunteers to take dangerous animals out of our fenced compounds and into the general community, sometimes even taking them to other communities in NewMexico.”
“Not concerned if small dog is killed by larger dog”
Hidalgo had already given notice of her resignation before taking her complaint to Albuquerque city inspector general Pacheco.
“In the days since I submitted my resignation,” Hidalgo charged, “Ms. Bruin has shown a sudden interest in the problems I might disclose after leaving the department,” including “a hasty proposal from Ms.Bruin this week for a written policy regarding dog behavior. Her proposal, which she largely dictated but wanted to claim I had coauthored with the operations manager, would have suggested in part that our department is not concerned if a small dog is killed by a larger dog. This is an unsound notion that Ms. Bruin has pushed many times, but when she tried to actually include it in a written policy it drew immediate criticism at a staff meeting two days ago and she did not pursue it.”
Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry appointed Bruin to head the two-shelter Animal Welfare Department on December 1, 2009. Bruin had never previously directed an animal shelter. “Until she was appointed to this position,” wrote Eric Williams of The Weekly Alibi, “she served on the Animal Humane Association of New Mexico’s board of directors, and she still sits on the New Mexico Attorney General’s Animal Cruelty Task Force. She started working with AHA about six years ago as a volunteer, eventually becoming involved with fundraising and, later, policy decisions. Bruin’s real work experience is public administration and law, a field she’s been in for 30 years, including a stint as a prosecutor.”
How the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department handles dangerous dog cases became controversial about 20 months into Bruin’s tenure. Reported Albuquerque Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann in August 2011, “A city animal control officer is under investigation for failing to immediately cite an Albuquerque dog owner for his pit bull’s attack on a 6-year-old girl, who ended up with more than 80 stitches to her face, a PTSD diagnosis and multiple cosmetic surgeries. Donald Bone, 48, was owner of the 40-pound dog who attacked his step-granddaughter, Lainey Winters, on June 21, 2011. Bone voluntarily surrendered the dog,” who was euthanized, but “was not cited for the late-June attack until after a Journal inquiry in early August, and he kept the pit bull for more than a month––despite a city ordinance that says convicted animal abusers can’t own so-called ‘dangerous dogs.’ Bone was convicted of animal cruelty in California in 2005.”
Albuquerque city spokesperson Chris Ramirez told Lohmann, Lohmann wrote, that “because the dog was not originally adopted under Bone’s name, and since Bone’s past conviction was in California, the city could not impound his pit bull.”
Moving from the Albuquerque mayor’s office to KOB Eyewitness News 4, Ramirez himself reported about the next flurry of concern about Albuquerque response, or lack thereof, to dog attacks.
Summarized Ramirez, “An Albuquerque woman wants city lawmakers to ban pit bulls. She’s upset because twice in the past two years pit bulls have broken into her yard and attacked and killed her small dogs. Dena Estrada spoke to Albuquerque City Councilors this week urging them to look at cities that already have similar bans.”
Said Estrada, “We need to follow Denver’s footsteps and ban pit bulls in the city of Albuquerque.”
Estrada got nowhere, at the time, but in October 2013 a year-long audit by the Albuquerque city inspector general’s office “found more problems than too many pets,” KOAT Target 7 News disclosed. “Investigators reported a ‘huge concern’ when it comes to the animal control officers. They uncovered there are no standard operating procedures for safety… The report also detailed an oversight that could have dangerous consequences. The area for the aggressive dogs is supposed to be closed off to the public, but it wasn’t. That means people were coming direct contact with some of the most dangerous dogs in the shelter. One investigator claimed he was almost bitten.”
Then as now, Bruin contended that she was emphasizing safety. “”We’ve done things like create use of force policy, get better equipment, make sure the Kevlar vests are current, get better training,” Bruin said. “”We do keep the dangerous animals away from the public,” Bruin claimed, “and we don’t adopt them out.”
Follows San Antonio report
Albuquerque is at least the third Southwestern city in less than a year where alleged neglect of safety in rehoming dangerous dogs and responding to dangerous dog complaints has become a public issue.
Only two weeks earlier, on March 13, 2015, an “Audit of Animal Care Services Dispatching & Operations” in San Antonio, Texas, identified critical deficiencies in animal control officer “compliance with guidelines related to aggressive and dangerous dogs, bites, and permits.”
San Antonio has over the past 10 years led U.S. cities in human fatalities from dog attacks, all of them involving pit bulls; has consistently been among the cities with the most dog attacks on U.S. Postal Service letter carriers during the past five years; and led the U.S. in 2014 in fatal dog attacks on other dogs, according to data tabulated by ANIMALS 24-7.
In June 2014 dog adoptions and transfers from the city shelter in Roswell, New Mexico, were briefly suspended during a review and rewrite of shelter policies.
Twenty-seven dogs were reportedly killed at the Roswell city shelter during the three-day suspension of adoptions.
The three-day suspension was imposed after three pit bulls on June 11, 2014 escaped from the Doggy Saviors rescue kennel near the edge of Roswell, harassed several horses in a nearby field, then mauled nine-year-old Colby Price when he arrived to water the horses. Alerted by neighbors, Price’s father––identified as a Roswell police officer––came to the attack by shooting two of the pit bulls at the scene. Price was airlifted to Lubbock, Texas, for treatment of injuries to his neck, chest, arms, legs, and the loss of parts of his ears.
The Roswell Animal Shelter formerly transferred dogs to nonprofit rescues, including Doggy Saviors, for just $1.00, on condition that the dogs were to be vaccinated, sterilized, and safely rehomed.
Added to the requirements after the attack on Colby Price are that rescues must present proof of nonprofit status and sign a contract that “commits [the rescue organization] to humane treatment and responsibility and full inspection of their facilities,” Roswell mayor Dennis Kintigh told media.
The outcome of a similar case that surfaced at about the same time in Stamford, Connecticut, remains pending, after former Stamford Animal Shelter manager Laurie Hollywood, 43, of Newtown, Connecticut, on January 6, 2015 withdrew her application for plea bargain that would have put her into an accelerated rehabilitation program for first offenders, and instead elected to stand on three counts of reckless endangerment.
Arrested on June 20, 2014, Hollywood appears to be the first U.S. shelter director to face criminal charges in connection with rehoming dangerous dogs.
Hired in March 2005, Hollywood was suspended on May 2, 2014, and fired on June 17, 2014, after a seven-week police investigation of allegations that she had recently adopted out three dogs without disclosing their prior bite history, who went on to bite other people. One victim required hospital treatment.
The Connecticut State Bureau of Regulation & Inspection had warned Hollywood against rehoming dangerous dogs in 2008 and 2011.
(See also http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/03/20/audit-hits-san-antonio-animal-care-services-for-neglect-of-public-safety/ and http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/01/27/how-many-other-animals-did-pit-bulls-kill-in-2014/.)