Office of inspector general’s report confirms allegations
ALBUQUERQUE––A newly released 38-page investigative report by acting Albuquerque city inspector general Peter Pacheco confirms allegations issued in February 2015 by city Animal Welfare Department second-in-command Jim Ludwick and animal welfare program manager and behavior specialist Carolyn Hidalgo that, in the report’s wording, “Dogs with problematic behavior were being released into the public.”
Pacheco found further that Animal Welfare Department director Barbara Bruin “was not forthcoming with all information relating to behaviorally unsafe dogs and those that pose a threat to the public and staff.”
The Albuquerque Office of Inspector General also determined that rescues accepting dangerous dogs from the city shelter “are currently not required to sign any sort of waiver or form acknowledging that the animal they are receiving from the Animal Welfare Department has had, or currently has, behavior issues or a bite history.”
“Shelter has responsibility”
Concluded Pacheco, “An animal shelter has a responsibility to protect not only the animals in their care, but also members of public, shelter employees and volunteers. Dogs who exhibit aggressive or dangerous behavior should not be released out into the public, not just for liability reasons, but for ethical reasons as well.
“The average person who goes into a shelter to adopt a pet likely does not have an extensive background and knowledge when it comes to canine behavior,” Pacheco wrote. “This naiveté may lead to people getting bit or other animals and pets being attacked and/or killed. Dog owners also have a big responsibility to ensure their dogs are not put in situations where they may become aggressive. They should follow the recommendations given by Animal Welfare Department employees, which should be on the animals’ documentation,” contrary to recent Albuquerque practice.
Recounted Pacheco, “The complainant [Ludwick] who initially contacted the Office of Inspector General provided examples of thirteen dogs who had displayed various types of aggression, and also had bite histories; failed the [American SPCA-developed] SAFER assessment; and had even been deemed potentially dangerous or dangerous.
“According to the information provided at the time of the initial complaint,” Pacheco continued, “two of the thirteen dogs had been adopted out. The dogs were returned to the shelter due to aggression, and were made available to the public and adopted out again.”
Explained Pacheco, “The Office of Inspector General met with the [Animal Welfare Department] director and animal program analyst on February 10, 2015. The Animal Welfare Department’s operations manager was also present for this meeting, as well as the Animal Welfare Department behaviorist. The Office of Inspector General was informed about SAFER testing and how it works, and was also told of various behavior modification programs put into place for the shelter dogs. The Office of Inspector General left feeling positive that management was moving in the right direction and had things under control.”
Behaviorist came forward
However, Pacheco continued, “A few days after the meeting, the Office of Inspector General was contacted by the Animal Welfare Department behaviorist, who requested to meet with the Office of Inspector General alone, explaining that the Office of Inspector General was not given an accurate picture of what was actually occurring at the shelters with regard to the type of dogs the Office of Inspector General had been inquiring about. The information she provided echoed that of the initial complaint. She stated that there were many dogs in the shelter over the past year considered to be aggressive and dangerous, but yet had been made available for adoption, or were transferred elsewhere. Included in these adoptions/transfers were dogs who had a history of biting, some killing animals, and dogs who had failed their SAFER assessments or were coded as a ‘Special’ because of their unpredictability. She expressed concerns that there had been many of these types of dogs who probably should have been euthanized, but instead were made available to the public.
“About a month after the Animal Welfare Department behaviorist contacted the Office of Inspector General, the animal program analyst contacted the Office of Inspector General with the same concerns,” Pacheco said.
The animal program analyst and the behaviorist “provided information on approximately 130 dogs they felt were some of the more problematic examples,” Pacheco reported.
Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department policy, at the time, stated that dogs would flunk behavioral screening for adoptability, “regardless of exhibited behavior during the SAFER test,” if they had “killed, attacked or severely injured another animal,” or “severely and aggressively bitten a human.”
Bruin, Pacheco recounted, has headed the Animal Welfare Department for about five years.
“Prior to becoming the director, she served on the board of the Animal Humane Association, and indicated this is where she got some background in sheltering,” Pacheco wrote. “She stated she does not hold any certifications, nor does she have any training in animal handling or animal behavior. She addressed that there has been no pressure from [Albuquerque] city administration or from the ASPCA for increased live release rates. She indicated that the Animal Welfare Department would never send an animal out into the community that they did not think was safe, just for the sake of improving numbers. She added that the Animal Welfare Department is also not trying to be ‘no kill.’”
“The director does believe it is a liability to the city to release dogs into the community who have been deemed potentially dangerous/dangerous, or that have the potential to bite or attack another animal or human being,” Pacheco summarized. “In talking with the director, however, the Office of Inspector General was given the impression that if a dog was a ‘Pass’ on its SAFER assessment, but has a negative history, the focus seemed to be more on the fact that the dog had ‘Passed’ the SAFER assessment.”
“This seemed to be the case with the dog called Mugsy Malone,” Pacheco found. “Mugsy Malone bit a 3-year old girl in the face, unprovoked, causing lacerations and multiple punctures. This dog was deemed dangerous and a court hold was placed.”
While in one of the Albuquerque Animal Services shellters, Pacheco continued, “Mugsy Malone bit a volunteer on the arm when the volunteer was trying to leash the dog for a walk. The director did not know what caused Mugsy Malone to bite the little girl. Concerning the incident with the volunteer, she speculated that the volunteer probably just leashed the dog wrong, and that is why it bit. However, she pointed out that Mugsy Malone passed the SAFER assessment three (3) times, and reiterated this a couple of times during the interview.”
“In violation of city regulations”
The Office of Inspector General found that among the dogs with problematic behavior who were released into the public were “dogs who had bitten citizens, Animal Welfare Department staff, or volunteers. Dogs who had attacked, bitten and even killed other animals were being released out into the public as well.
Some of these dogs were made available for adoption. In some cases dogs were returned, but then re-adopted to someone else. Other dogs were transferred to other shelters or rescue groups. Many of the employees interviewed agreed that Animal Welfare Department was adopting out and transferring dogs who should never have been released out into the public.”
Thereby, the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department “is in violation of the city’s Personnel Rules and Regulations,” Pacheco determined, “which state ‘The City of Albuquerque is a public service institution. In carrying out their assigned duties and responsibilities, employees must always remember their first obligation is to the general public’s safety and well-being.’”
Director tried to avoid “full-blown” investigation
Page 15 of the Albuquerque Office of Inspector General’s report describes an incident in which Pacheco was informed that, “The animal program analyst told the director it looked ‘bad’ to see dogs with patterns of biting people and killing other animals being adopted out or transferred. After reviewing the information on the spreadsheet, the director asked the behaviorist to stop gathering information for these dogs. The director decided the spreadsheet would not be given to the Office of Inspector General and that it would be better to provide just numbers. Any further information about the dogs should not be provided in a written report.
“When the Office of Inspector General asked the director about this, she confirmed that she did want to avoid a full-blown investigation, given that AWD had already been through one,” Pacheco’s report summarized. “The director did not believe that they were hiding any information with regard to the Animal Welfare Department adopting out aggressive dogs. She stated there was no cover up, but the initial document prepared turned out to be misleading.”
Pointed out Pacheco, “The Director of the Department is not allowed to withhold information or documents, even when she believes such information may be incomplete.”
Breed identifications changed
Pacheco’s investigation confirmed concern that Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department volunteers were being allowed to place “holds” on dogs who had histories of behavioral issues, including “histories of biting and killing other animals,” even other dogs.
Pacheco also “learned that there have been instances in which a dog’s breed listing has been changed. The Office of Inspector General was provided with several examples of dogs who had their breed listing changed at some point in time during their stay at the shelter,” Pacheco wrote. “All had their primary breed listed as pit bull, but at some point, the primary breed was changed in the documentation. Examples of breed listing changes include changing these pit bulls to such breeds as boxer, Labrador retriever, German shepherd, Australian cattle dog, Siberian husky, and even chow chow.”
Changing the listed breeds of dogs “gives an appearance that breed listings are being changed to increase adoptability,” Pacheco charged.
Dogs’ names changed too
Likewise, Pacheco “learned that there are many instances in which a dog’s name is changed during while in the shelter. Sometimes a name will be changed more than once. The director stated this is usually done simply for marketing purposes, and is something that even the ASPCA suggests.”
Pacheco recommended that written Standard Operating Procedures be written that outline “how to handle aggressive, behaviorally unsafe and potentially dangerous dogs in the shelters,” and “should consider including a guideline stating that a dog should not be adopted out so quickly if it has killed another animal.”
Standard Operating Procedures
Pacheco also recommended that the Animal Welfare Department should develop written Standard Operating Procedures be developed for changing a dog’s breed listing and/or name.
“The breed listing change should only be in the event that there has been a legitimate reconsideration of what a dog’s actual breed may be,” Pacheco said. “The Animal Welfare Department should notate how the determination was made and specifically, what the breed listing change is attributable to.”
Pacheco concluded with the double-edged recommendation that the Animal Welfare Department should “develop a form to help determine if employees and volunteers have a breed bias, be it negative or positive, toward particular breeds. This way the most appropriate individuals can conduct the assessments without bias.”
Pit bull advocates frequently claim “breed bias” is why pit bulls account for 60% of the dogs killed at U.S. animal shelters, though pit bulls also account for more than 30% of the dogs admitted to shelters and for more than 70% of dogs involved in fatal and disfiguring attacks, while making up less than 6% of the total U.S. dog population.
The Pacheco report demonstrates, however, that Albuquerque Animal Services has had personnel who have put the public and animals at risk by favoring pit bulls––a common trend in shelter work.
From 1858 through 1987, there were no known fatalities inflicted by former shelter dogs. Then there were five from 1988 through 2009, but have been 38 since 2010, involving 30 pit bulls, seven bull mastiffs, two Rottweilers, a Lab who may have been part pit bull, and a husky.
Disfiguring maulings by former shelter dogs have gone up proportionately, with pit bulls accounting for more than 70%––exactly as they do among dogs who have never been through the SAFER test and other behavioral screening.
Barbara Bruin responds
Said Bruin in a written response appended to the Albuquerque Office of Inspector General’s report, “The Animal Welfare Department is always striving to improve our behavioral assessment of dogs, but it is not an exact science and there is no crystal ball, so errors are possible. However, there are procedures in place that make certain dogs that have shown to be a threat to other animals or people are not placed up for adoption.
“In 2014,” Bruin said, “the Animal Welfare Department adopted out 6,038 dogs. 132 (2%) of those are noted in the claim included in this report as having problematic behavior. Of the 132 dogs listed in the claim it was found that 29 had been sent to a rescue shelter, 7 had been euthanized, 5 were duplicates, and 1 had was listed as “pass” for the SAFER assessment. That left 92 dogs that were claimed to be adopted out with behavioral issues. We have followed up with written correspondence to each of those owners. To date we have received 51 responses and not a single aggressive behavioral issue has been identified.”
Seventy dangerous dogs unaccounted for
However, Bruin’s numbers leave 41 dogs who were individually rehomed and the 29 dogs who were sent to rescues unaccounted for: 53% of the total of 132 problematic dogs. Further, the mere fact that a rescue rehomes a dangerous dog instead of the shelter that released the dog to the rescue does not exonerate the shelter of moral responsibility for the consequences.
Finally, rehoming dogs safely requires avoiding all attacks by rehomed dogs, not just some of them. As the Mugsy Malone attack illustrates, the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department under Bruin has not approached that goal. Instead, acting Albuquerque city inspector general Pacheco found, Bruin relied excessively on ASPCA SAFER test scores.
This is the same test that the Asheville Humane Society, in Buncombe County, North Carolina, used to assess the pit bull who on July 7, 2015 killed Joshua Phillip Strother, age 6, three weeks after rehoming.
An investigation by Buncombe County officials concluded on August 8, 2015 that “The sheltering practices of Asheville Humane Society meet or exceed industry best practice standards for an open admission shelter.”
But that finding did not mean that the “industry best practice standards,” as prescribed by the animal sheltering industry itself, adequately serve or protect the public and the other animals who are put at risk when dangerous dogs are rehomed.