City withholds details about consequences
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico––A City of Albuquerque internal investigation has found the city’s Animal Welfare Department to be “only partially in compliance” with the city dangerous dog ordinance, including in rehoming dogs who should have been classified as dangerous.
What the cost has been to public safety remains unclear, since the City of Albuquerque has withheld a report by the private eye firm Robert Caswell Investigations about the outcomes of 132 adoptions of dogs who flunked the American SPCA-developed SAFER test to identify dangerous behavior.
The validity of the SAFER test as may in itself be called into question. On July 7, 2015, in Henderson County, North Carolina, a pit bull rehomed by the Asheville Humane Society after apparently passing the SAFER test only three weeks later killed Joshua Phillip Strother, age 6.
(See also Pit bull from Asheville Humane Society kills six-year-old and Buncombe County, NC orders moratorium on pit bull adoptions.)
Two of top dogs complained
But Strother had not yet been killed on March 27, 2015, when City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department second-in-command Jim Ludwick and former animal welfare program manager and behavior specialist Carolyn Hidalgo alleged in written complaints to Albuquerque city inspector general Peter Pacheco that 100 dogs who failed the SAFER test had been placed directly with families, while 32 more were transferred to rescue organizations,
Hidalgo punctuated her complaint by resigning from the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department. Ludwick “still works for the Animal Welfare Department but said that he has been moved to an office in the building where employees of the city’s air quality division work and that his duties have been restricted,” wrote Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Colleen Heild on June 19, 2015.
(See also Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department #2 and behaviorist allege neglect of public safety in pushing pit bull adoptions.)
This was one day after Ludwick, who for 30 years was an investigative reporter, filed a lawsuit contending that Albuquerque has no legal grounds to withhold the Robert Caswell Investigations findings.
The Ludwick lawsuit was on July 12, 2015 endorsed by Albuquerque City Council member Isaac Benton, who also asked Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry to “Immediately and administratively increase the insurance requirement for owners of dogs who have been declared dangerous from the current $100,000 to $1.5 million.”
Mayor promised changes
Berry earlier “instructed his staff to prepare proposed changes that would strengthen the city’s Angel’s Law,” named after pit bull attack victim Angel Martinez, “which was designed to help protect the public from dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners,” Heild reported. What those changes might be, however, has not been clarified.
Heild and the Albuquerque Journal earlier requested a copy of the Caswell findings, but was told “the report can be kept confidential because the inquiry was commissioned in ‘anticipation of litigation,’” Heild said.
“We didn’t find adopter” means “no problems”?
City of Albuquerque chief operating officer Michael Riordan told Heild that the Albuquerque internal investigation team “also wrote a letter to owners of dogs listed in the [Ludwick] complaint as a potential risk to public safety. The lack of problems with those dogs so far, Riordan told Heild, indicates “We did not adopt any dogs out there that were unsafe or dangerous. The fact that there have been no issues with those dogs means those allegations have been cleared up.”
But in truth, Heild learned, only “about half of the nearly 100 people who last year adopted shelter dogs that failed standardized behavior tests have reported back to the city, saying they had no problems with their new pets. The rest haven’t responded.”
The apparent inability of the City of Albuquerque to locate and obtain responses from adopters within a year or less of rehoming dogs is in itself a cause for concern. The non-responders might potentially include people who have been instructed by counsel to refrain from communication with the City of Albuquerque in anticipation of litigation, and/or people who have fled the jurisdiction to avoid liability for dog attacks, along with people who encountered dangerous behavior only after relocating.
City of Albuquerque tribunal
The City of Albuquerque internal investigation of the Animal Welfare Department was conducted by a panel including fiscal manager for the city transit department Chris Payton, Department of Municipal Development capital and infrastructure manager Mark Motesko, and assistant city attorney Hessel E. Yntema IV.
“There are two ordinances that govern the administration of the Animal Welfare Department,” the panel reported. “They are the Humane & Ethical Animal Rules & Treatment Ordinance (HEART) and Angel’s Law.” Both ordinances date to 2006.
“HEART,” the panel report explained, “deals generally with the department’s daily operations, administration, and permitting schemes. Angel’s Law is a compliment to HEART, which dictates how the department is meant to deal with dogs who pose an increased risk to the public, i.e. dangerous dogs.
Ignoring dangerous dog law
“It appears that the department is in compliance with HEART,” the panel concluded, “but is only partially in compliance with Angel’s Law,” which “creates a classification system and administrative mechanism for dealing with dogs who pose a risk to public safety. A dog can be considered ‘potentially dangerous’ or ‘dangerous,’” the panel report explained. “If a dog is designated as dangerous, then a series of requirements attaches to the dog and owner. This includes exclusion from certain types of property, insurance requirements, and notice requirements. Violations of Angel’s Law carry criminal liability.
“Presently there are [written] standard operating procedures for the Field Service,” meaning animal control officers, “to designate dogs as dangerous as per Angel’s Law,” the panel found. “The Field Service appears to do a reasonable job working with the city attorney’s office to administratively determine dogs as dangerous and then tracking these dangerous dogs.”
No standard operating procedures
However, the panel report continued, “Within the Kennel Division (the shelter) there are no dangerous dog standard operating procedures. For example, currently the department has the incorrect view that the department is only able to classify dogs as dangerous if they are in the possession of a private individual. Therefore, some dogs who would otherwise be classified as dangerous, but for being in the department’s possession, have subsequently been adopted out by Kennel Division staff.
“Additionally,” the panel found, “there appear to be instances where dogs who meet definition of a dangerous dog are subsequently adopted without written notice,” exactly as Ludwick and Hidalgo charged.
“This is particularly troublesome,” the panel pointed out, “considering the requirement [of Angel’s Law] that the ‘owner of a dangerous dog shall not sell, loan, transfer, give, devise, board, or otherwise convey ownership or custody and control of a dangerous dog to any other person in the city without notifying the recipient in writing that the dog is a dangerous dog.
“The City of Albuquerque meets both the definition of Person and Owner set forth in the ordinance,” the panel acknowledged.
“For the Kennel Division,” the investigative panel emphasized, “a dangerous dog as defined by Angel’s Law standard operating procedure is urgently needed. Presently there is no mechanism in place to deal with dogs who are dangerous as a matter of law, as current standard operating procedures relating to adoption exclude any mention of dangerous dogs.
“For the Animal Welfare Division to be compliant with Angel’s Law for the adoption of ‘dangerous dogs,’” the panel said, “a change to the language on the existing waiver and adoption forms is needed.”
The City of Albuquerque investigative panel compared the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department procedures for identifying dangerous dogs to those of the Animal Humane Society of New Mexico, the largest nonprofit limited admission shelter serving the city.
Both agencies use the Asilomar Accords definitions of adoptable, treatable, and rehabilitatable dogs developed by the no-kill advocacy foundation Maddie’s Fund, characterized by the panel as “a written guideline for categorizing the medical and behavioral conditions of each animal who enters a shelter.”
The Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department “uses some of the terminology of the Asilomar Accords, but no one could tell us when the implementation of the terms began, or why the [decision-making matrix used by the Animal Humane Society of New Mexico] was not used,” the investigative panel found.
“While Animal Welfare Department uses some phrases of the Asilomar Accords,” the panel report continued, “those phrases are more of a judgment call rather than following a written procedure.”
Euthanasia protocol needed
The panel recommended introducing a written procedure for determining which dogs should be euthanized. Written procedure, the panel wrote, “removes the emotional stress that can arise when deciding on which animals are to be euthanized because the decisions are based on a written document rather than a ‘gut’ feeling. It will also provide a written process and accountability tool as to why an animal was euthanized.”
The panel reported that when Animal Welfare Department staff were “asked about how dogs are put on the euthanasia list, there was not a consistent method for determining this list. Several staffers said there was a Population Management Team who made a list twice a week. However, other staff members said there was no longer an operating Population Management Team and the euthanasia list was generated by a kennel supervisor and a senior animal handler, or the euthanasia list was generated only by a single senior animal handler at times.
“No clear policy”
“Other staffers said all three types [of euthanasia list construction] may be used in a given week depending on who is available. There was no clear policy for determining how a euthanasia list is created,” the panel emphasized, “and there was no consistency on who can create a euthanasia list. This led to staff accusing other staff of inappropriate selections for dogs to be added to the euthanasia list for capricious reasons.
“Further, at times there was no clear reason why upper management removed dogs from the euthanasia list. Staff felt ‘defeated’ when they were not informed as to why their decisions on selections of the euthanasia list were being overturned.”
These findings affirmed the opening anecdote in the March 27, 2015 complaint by Ludwick to the Albuquerque city auditor that triggered the panel investigation. Ludwick described how a dog named 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 [Barbara Bruin]. Later, the director approved giving Pappy to a rescue group, who recently arranged for Pappy to be adopted.”
Indirectly responding to Ludwick’s complaint, the investigative panel recommended “ creating a euthanasia list removal committee for non-medical euthanasia to review the Population Management Team outcome list. The committee should include a management level staff person to check for ‘holds’ on dogs,” meaning requests that a dog not be euthanized because someone has claimed the dog.
“The committee should come to a majority decision,” the panel said, “to remove a dog previously identified as a candidate for euthanasia by the Population Management team.
Volunteers placing “holds”
“The current standard operating procedure for placing a euthanasia hold on animals does not identify volunteers as able to place holds,” the investigative panel continued.”
Nonetheless, the panel learned, “volunteer holds occur frequently. During the second day of the investigation, the team was provided an undated, unsigned copy of a document titled ‘Volunteer Project Animal Protocol.’ This document is unclear and allows volunteers to place up to two holds every 30 days.”
By contrast, the panel report continued, “The Animal Humane Society of New Mexico formerly had allowed a volunteer to place a hold on animals identified on their euthanasia list or at risk list,” but volunteers there “no longer are allowed to place holds on dogs or cats who are on the euthanasia list or at risk list. The Animal Humane Society of New Mexico does allow volunteers (and the public) to place a hold on an animal,” the Animal Welfare Department investigative panel said, “as long as the animal is adopted within 24 hours of the hold. If the hold is placed and an animal is not adopted within 24 hours, the volunteer is no longer allowed to place holds on any animal.”
The Albuquerque investigative panel recommended that volunteers should not be allowed to place holds “on animals deemed by the Population Management Team to be euthanized. It is our opinion,” the panel stated, “that volunteers should not be allowed to serve on the aforementioned recommended euthanasia list removal committee.”
Why the investigative panel made the latter recommendation was not specified. However, most animal shelters and almost all animal control agencies exclude volunteers from participating in final decisions about euthanasias done for behavioral reasons, because volunteers, by definition, have little or no liability for the consequences if a dog who is not euthanized goes on to seriously injure or kill someone.
Mugsy Malone & Angel’s Law
Ludwick in his March 27, 2015 complaint 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 had 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.”
Colleen Lynn says
This state law was passed in 2005.
The law was designed to remove “arbitrary” animal control department decisions by setting forth statewide procedures in the handling of “potentially dangerous” and “dangerous” dogs. Unsurprisingly, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and regional “Mauling” Fanciers opposed the law, demonstrating for the “nth” time that such groups do not support “Punishing the Deed” as widely claimed. Hopefully, New Mexico prosecutors have convicted offenders under this law.
I bet no one has ever ever been charged under it!
What a mess that state is!
Jamaka Petzak says
Fact after fact after killing after killing after account after account, and still the PC pitbull/attack dog clique continues to hold sway over the gullible public.
Gavin Ehringer says
Dog Days of Summer: Pit bulls dominate gruesome headlines
“The pit bull that killed a 6-year-old boy in Henderson County on Tuesday was adopted from the Asheville Human Society in June. According to the shelter, the dog ‘did not exhibit any aggressive behaviors…this dog came in as a start so we do not know his history, only his behavior while he was with us, which gave no indication that he would have any issue of this type.’”
Dog in Fatal Attack Adopted from Asheville Humane Society – Asheville, NC July 9
Elderly Man Killed After Being Attacked by Pit Bull – Waco, Texas, July 2
Woman Dies after Shaker Heights dog attack – Pittsburg, PA, July 13 [Dog later identified by hospital, police, neighbors as a pit bull].
Police: 3-year-old Lawton Boy Dies After Pit Bull Attack – Lawton, OK, June 29
Dogs Maul Woman to Death in Redbird – Red Bird, OK, July 24 (Dogs later identified as three pit bulls, one Rottweiler)
Dog Euthanized after ripping off North Charleston owner’s arm – North Charleston, S.C., July 27 [Staffordshire bull terrier aka pit bull]
Lincoln County Woman Airlifted After Dog Attack – Lexington, Ky., July 27 [Four Presa Canarios, a rare breed described by some as more dangerous than pit bulls; famously, in 2001, Dianne Whipple of San Francisco was killed by two Presas.]
Pit bull attack sends 2 to hospital in New Westminster: Woman suffers ‘life-long’ injuries to her face and head – Westminster, BC July 23
Dog attacks Arnold Pair – Arnold, Pa. (Pit bull) July 25
Construction Worker, boy stop pit bull attack – St. Louis Park, Minn., July 22 (Pit bull attacks & kills 9-year-old Yorkie, injures 78-year-old owner)
Woman sentenced in 4-year-old’s fatal dog attack case – Newton, Iowa, July 13 [Dog was a Staffordshire Terrier]
Health Officials Seek Information on Dog Attack – Buffalo, NY, 15 July [Pit bull]
Neighbors save woman from vicious dog attack – St. Louis, Mo, July 15 [Akita, German Shepherd]
Temecula: Dog attack sends 3 children to hospital; One is airlifted to San Diego. The dog, a pit bull breed, was turned over to animal control. – Temecula, CA July 13 [Dog identified as an Am Staff]
Girl in hospital after bend mauled in Stoke-on-Trent dog attack – Stoke-On-Trent, England. (6-year-old girl, extensive facial damage, Staffordshire bull terrier)
Sydney man mauled by pit bulls after trying to stop fight – Sydney, Australia, July 12. (Man lost both ears).
Reno Police Shoot and Injure Pit Bull That Attacked Officers – Reno, NV, July 10
Small dog attacked in Connellsville by pit bull dies, July 15
Humane Society locates owner of put bulls in City Park [fatal] attack of Pomeranian – Hagerstown, MD, July 10
Investigation continues into Reno dog attack [Three dogs identified by Lt. Shaw as “pit bull or pit bull mixes] – Reno, Nev., July 10
Teen saves 5-year-old from dog attack [two pit bulls, German shepherd] – Hunstville, Ala, July 10
Kyle duo facing criminal charges related to dog attack – Kyle, Texas [four pit bull mixes attacked a woman and killed her pet dog]
77 Year Old Recounts Vicious Pit Bull Attack in Anderson – North Carolina, July 3
Pitbull Mooch savaged owner Lee Jay Cluskey’s six year old sister – Liverpool, England, July 2
Pit bull shot, killed after attacking Smith County workers – Tyler, Texas June 30
Wainuiomata pit bull shot dead after attack on police dog – New Zealand, June 29
Pit Bull Attack Leads to Brawl Between Homeless Men – San Diego, CA June 27
Boy, 4, is recovering from pit bull attack, family says – Staten Island, NY, June 26
Man accused of abandoning pit bull as it fatally attacks poodle – Fon du Lac, Wisc. June 24
Anchorage police say girl hospitalized after attack by pit bull – Alaska, June 20
Man Mauled by Three Dogs in Backyard, Officer – Pike Township, Indiana, June 19
Pit Bull Attacks girl’s service dog, city post animal up for adoption – Albuquerque, NM June 18
Toddler Attacked by pit bull in Rocky Mount – North Carolina, June 11
Pit Bull Shot Dead After Fatal Attack – Detroit Free Press, June 10
Compiled by Google, search phrase “dog attack”
How, in your opinion, should we as animal advocates deal with shelters who adopt out dangerous dogs?
Also–what about general animal rights/welfare groups that work on a variety of issues, but that also promote and idealize the fighting breeds? How should we communicate with them?
Merritt Clifton says
Shelters that adopt out dangerous dogs need to be called to account by their donors, volunteers, and communities. Many shelters are now adopting out dangerous dogs because they mistakenly believe, based on the noise they hear from the 5% of dog keepers who keep pit bulls and other dogs of fighting lineage, that their constituency values a high “live release” rate over public safety, including the safety of other pets as well as humans.
Shelter management tends to be extremely image-conscious, since a positive image attracts adopters and donors. In that light, well-publicized picket lines and vigils organized by people whose relatives, friends, and pets have been killed or maimed by ill-advised adoptions could achieve some quick adjustments of management attitude.
Concerning “general animal rights/welfare groups that work on a variety of issues, but that also promote and idealize the fighting breeds,” there is no generalist organization working more effectively on any specific issue than at least one much smaller specialized organization. Donors will usually accomplish far more by supporting specialized small organizations addressing the topics that most concern them, then by tossing their money into the pools raised by the big generalist organizations. Indeed, when closely examined, the claims of big generalist organizations to having won big “victories” all too often are based on claiming credit for the work of smaller specialist organizations, which frequently are not even acknowledged. Thus the appropriate response to “general animal rights/welfare groups that work on a variety of issues, but that also promote and idealize the fighting breeds” is two-pronged: to inform them that their views on fighting breeds are inappropriate and offensive, and to find and support the small specialized organizations that are most effectively addressing the issues of most concern to the donor.
When states let breeder lobbies, with their shill “activist” fronts, influence lawmakers and policy, this is the result: dead and injured.
Breeder lobbies do not represent public safety, nor do they even represent the interests or humane treatment of the dogs themselves. They are BUSINESS lobbies.
Their interests have infiltrated too many animal control departments.
People need to figure out how these business lobbies work in their state and how they influence, because if the public doesn’t do this and start putting an end to special interest business control, the public will continue to be killed and mauled.
Elizabeth Clifton says
Jesslyn, I have seen exactly what you are speaking about in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Then-animal control director Ian Hallett was allowing pit bull enthusiasts/breeders posing as concerned rescuers to remove pit bulls from the Hillsborough County animal shelter to place them in a quasi-public setting among families with children to participate in weight pull events. The director just allowed these volunteers to do as they pleased with dogs from unknown backgrounds and questionable temperaments. The shelter had been strategically infiltrated by those involved in breeding dogs, attempting to affect policy for their own personal agendas. An investigative report by Mike Deeson of WTSP exposed the removal of dangerous pit bulls from the shelter and it came to a halt. Hallett has since been removed as director and placed in a more harmless position.
Elizabeth, horrifying but not surprising.
Breeders have always had an eye on influencing animal control, and have been successful to a greater or lesser degree depending mostly on location and who was or was not willing to call them out and expose their tactics. Also on how much influence Big Ag had in the area.
Their original interests were in pressuring animal control to refuse to push for stronger humane or control laws, refuse to enforce laws on the books, or to look the other way when it came to puppy mills, dog fighting, and animal cruelty as well as helping them avoid breeder licensing.
Their efforts were and are often chilling, and the public just isn’t aware of what goes on behind the curtain.
I can remember a sled dog breeder in VT in the early 2000s who ran local animal control seeking out the help of other breeders in a well-known breeder lobbying group in trying to push local law enforcement to ignore the sexual attack of a Lab by a local man which resulted in the dog’s death and not press charges. I documented the online conversation as they were all more than willing to help her out. I also will point out that this was quite a normal kind of activity among these nationally known breeders, some of whom were quoted as dog experts in various media.
With the increases in profits to be made from breeding violent breeds, the public scrutiny on attacks which leads to more demands for regulation, and the pressure on dog fighters, the breeders have put much stronger efforts into pushing back and infiltrate and trying to control and dominate animal control, and even use it as a sales opportunity at taxpayer’s expense.
The primary goal of the breeder lobby is- do everything and say anything to counter any kind of regulation. Pose as anything it takes to get the job done. Breeders want to make up the rules, and their rules are no rules and anything goes, even the most heinous cruelty or the most gruesome attacks on the public.
Their ploys are also much more devious now than in the past. They attempt to hide their breeder interests and contacts, and pretend to be ‘animal welfare’ or ‘rescues’ or ‘humane groups.’ to try to trick the public and legislators. Of course they are not, and their interests are completely contrary
It has taken the animal welfare community, the real one, so long to figure out the tactics of this well-funded business lobby and learn how they operate. I hope that more will work to expose it
One of many examples, luckily exposed before damage was done.