Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department has been repeatedly spotlighted since circa 2010 for housing & rehoming high-risk dogs
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico––Yet again an Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department employee has suffered a severe dog attack on the job.
Yet again observers who should know better are often looking in the wrong places for the reasons why.
Reported Chris Ramirez of KOB News 4 on September 19, 2021, “There’s a new problem brewing at Albuquerque animal shelters and it’s because of the [COVID-19] pandemic. Workers say some gentle dogs are becoming more and more dangerous.”
Albuquerque shelter dog attacks long predate pandemic
Having headed the KOB News 4 investigative team since 2011, Ramirez should be aware that dog attacks on Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department workers are nothing new at all.
Indeed, such attacks were coming to light at a rate exceeded by few animal shelters across the entire U.S. for at least seven years before COVID-19 became known to medical science in very late December 2019.
Only Los Angeles Animal Services is known to rival the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department in dog attacks on staff.
Ramirez should be especially aware of this because he personally reported about some of the attacks.
“In fact,“ Ramirez continued in his September 19, 2021 report, “one employee was recently mauled by a dog that behavioral scientists said was safe.”
Albuquerque partnered with ASPCA
This is exactly what has happened in at least seven other maulings of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department personnel since February 2014, when the agency and the American SPCA of New York City initiated a partnership to increase the Albuquerque animal shelter “live release rate.”
Whether the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department used the ASPCA-promoted “SAFER” test before February 2014 is unclear, but former department director Barbara Bruin––who headed the agency from 2010 until November 2015––in April 2015 acknowledged having used the “SAFER” test during her tenure.
Introduced Ramirez, “Deana Case was once an animal behavioral specialist for the City of Albuquerque,” apparently serving about four years in Albuquerque after serving in a similar capacity from April 2010 to June 2016 at the Kitsap Humane Society in Silverdale, Washington.
“After she quit,” Ramirez said, Case “agreed to speak to KOB 4 on behalf of many others who reached out, but felt they couldn’t go on camera in fear of losing their jobs. She worked with dogs who increasingly became stressed while at the shelter.”
“Three dozen punctures, nicked vein”
The dogs impounded by the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, Case asserted, “haven’t had a lot of human contact during their stay in the shelter. And often their body chemistry is so elevated that it causes actual permanent changes to the brain. Physiological changes happen from stress and trauma to people and animals.”
The most recent dog attack on an Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department employee occurred, Case said, when the employee “went in to scoop his kennel and this very young herding breed dog who had been there for months without enough exercise, no enrichment level human contact, mauled her.”
Summarized Ramirez, “Case said the employee had nearly three dozen punctures, the dog nicked a vein, and the employee was taken away by ambulance.”
The dog was euthanized.
Understaffed & overcrowded
Resumed Ramirez, “Case, along with several others, told KOB 4 dogs are becoming more stressed because of two major issues: there are simply not enough people to care for all the animals and there are just too many animals,” about 900 reportedly now in the shelter.
“Cell phone video and photos provided to 4 Investigates show animals are in areas meant for short-term use, like the intake area, where animals are supposed to be for a few minutes, but dogs would live there for days,” Ramirez said.
“Right now, the [Albuquerque] Animal Welfare Department has a 30% job vacancy rate. The people who should be working with the dogs simply aren’t there, and that has led to dogs staying inside their cages for 23-24 hours a day for weeks or months.”
This would obviously be a bad situation at any shelter, but the issue is accentuated at the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department because, in attempting to pursue a “no kill” policy from Bruin’s tenure to the present, the shelter allegedly keeps dogs of demonstrably dangerous behavior, in hopes someone eventually will adopt and rehabilitate them.
Barking & lunging
Meanwhile the suspected dangerous dogs, mostly pit bulls, lunge and bark at other dogs, workers, and shelter visitors, intimidating other dogs into defensive behavior––which tends to make some dogs dangerous who were probably not high-risk upon arrival.
Of the 157 dogs officially deemed “dangerous” by the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department since 2009, a very low number for an agency reportedly receiving 700 to 800 bite reports per year, 77 (49%) were pit bulls.
“We are a public shelter and we don’t close our doors when we get to capacity,” Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department director Carolyn Ortega told Ramirez.
This is true, but is also true of the approximately 2,500 other animal control shelters around the U.S. which, to the extent that available information permits comparisons, do not have staff seriously injured by dogs at the rate of approximately one per year.
Shelter quit doing spay/neuter
Ortega, whose first day on the job was May 19, 2020, had no prior experience working in animal shelters before becoming the fourth Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department chief during the four-year tenure of Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller, who took office on January 1, 2017.
Noted Ramirez, “Ortega said at the beginning of the [COVID -19] pandemic, she was ordered to stop spay and neuter surgeries.
“To preserve personal protective equipment for the hospitals,” she said.
Ortega’s response showed her inexperience, since she could have persuasively argued that Albuquerque Animal Services could continue to do spay/neuter surgeries without using any personal protective equipment needed by hospitals.
Just 450 miles north, in Denver, Colorado, Planned Pethood Plus founder Jeff Young, DVM, may have performed more successful spay/neuter surgeries than any veterinarian living or dead, with the possible exception of his now retired mentor, Marvin Mackie, DVM, of Los Angeles.
“Our patients lick their own asses”
Young has worked at a normal pace throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, despite donating the Planned Pethood Plus supplies of personal protective equipment to human hospitals early in the crisis.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, among other entities and individuals, have criticized Young for doing spay/neuter surgery bare-armed, instead of in surgical scrubs, but Young responded in 2017, “Let’s take a look at outcomes. I challenge any vet at any time to do 100 surgeries at the same time I do and compare outcomes. Look people, our patients lick their own asses. We are working on animals with great immune systems. The biggest threat we should be concerned about is all the antibiotic use. Where do you get bad life-threatening infections? At human hospitals with very strict sterility.
“By the way,” Young added, “I get to cut off the legs of many pets coming from fancy hospitals all the time due to horrible resistant infections. The challenge is out there; let’s compare.”
“We did this on purpose”
Ramirez asked Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller why he hired Ortega, in view of her lack of animal shelter experience.
Replied Keller, “We did this on purpose. Often in city departments where they have had long-standing issues, you need an outsider. All I want from our animal welfare director is to let the experts run the department, and I want them to manage that all those high level things that were happening, aren’t happening before.”
But similar things have been happening.
Reported KRQE weekend anchor Jackie Kent on August 24, 2020, “A now-former volunteer at the [Albuquerque] Animal Welfare Department is accused of lying to people looking to adopt animals, harassing staff, and even killing a dog, according to a new report from the city’s Office of the Inspector General.
“Staff told the investigator that the volunteer once took home a foster puppy without approval, left the puppy alone and it drowned in his pool,” Kent elaborated. “In February, the report revealed he lied to a woman at Lucky Paws,” the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department adoption center, “saying the animal would be euthanized if not adopted that day.”
40% bite complaint response rate
The latter incident, at least, occurred before Ortega was hired, just a year after the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department was honored as the 2019 National Animal Care & Control Association Agency of the Year.
What politics brought the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department the NACA award remains unclear.
According to information obtained by KRQE reporter Gabrielle Burkhart, Albuquerque dog impoundments through 2018 were increasing at a rate of about 1,000 per year, a strong indication of a growing population of dogs running at large.
This occurred even as the Animal Welfare Department managed only about a 40% response rate to bite complaints, normally the top priority for response by any animal control agency.
Already sued half a dozen times in under four years over issues pertaining to rehoming dangerous animals, the city of Albuquerque was in the fourth week of October 2018 sued yet again, this time by former Albuquerque Animal Welfare employee Victoria Murphy, a 40-year animal care-and-control professional, now working for Animal Protection of New Mexico.
Murphy objected after then-department director Bruin repeatedly rehomed dogs whom Murphy had recommended for euthanasia due to dangerous behavior.
Earlier, Albuquerque paid more than $15,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by former Animal Welfare program analyst Jim Ludwick “after the city failed to provide him the findings of an internal investigation into allegations that the city was permitting aggressive and potentially dangerous dogs to be adopted from its shelters,” Albuquerque Journal investigative report Colleen Heild reported in January 2016.
Ludwick had complained to the Albuquerque Office of Inspector General in March 2015 “that he believed public safety was at risk due to the shelters’ practices of adopting out dogs known to have failed aggression tests, or who either attacked humans or killed other family pets,” Heild recounted.
The internal investigation affirmed Ludwick’s contentions.
(See also Albuquerque pound broke city’s own dangerous dog law, Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department #2 and behaviorist allege neglect of public safety in pushing pit bull adoptions and Albuquerque city shelter released dangerous dogs.)