Animal control ordinance discussed
Socorro citizens voiced their opinions on the state of animal control at the Socorro City Council meeting, pending the adoption of an amendment to the city’s Animal Control Ordinance.
Betty Scott, a Socorro resident, started off the public comments section of the meeting with sharp criticism of the city’s actions to date.
“If you enforced your own ordinance, you wouldn’t have to write a new one,” Scott said.
She addressed the council regarding the city’s failure to take action in dealing with a woman living in a house in her neighborhood. Dozens of cats, most of which were eventually euthanized, were removed from a house on Fitch Street on May 22.
Scott said she’s been complaining about the state of that house for eight years, resulting in only nominal action. On May 9, she went to the sheriff’s office and the situation was then addressed within two weeks, she said.
Mayor Ravi Bhasker said he was attempting to hire another animal control officer who has a warrant authority to act on issues such as these. He also said any complaints should be directed towards him during office hours so that they can be formally dealt with.
Scott told Bhasker that she met with him several times during mayoral and medical office hours regarding the hoarding issue. The mayor said he could not recall having met with her during those times. He also asked for specific animal ordinance violations in writing.
“This is ridiculous,” she said. “I want a better city to live in. You guys need to do your job.”
Assistant Police Chief Mike Winders acknowledged that Socorro Animal Shelter Director Alfred Jojola, along with a former Socorro Police Officer Brandy Perkins, did respond to complaints about the house, but were unable to get a warrant.
Currently, the city’s animal ordinance does allow the animal control officer to execute a warrant on a house, but it does not allow for entry without permission based on probable cause.
“I have known about this problem,” Bhasker said. “We can’t barge into someone’s house without violating the law.”
Ordinance violations were brought against the resident of the house, Mary Baca, to the tune of $200, who was ordered to remove all of the cats from her property and clean the cat excrement from her premises, but these orders were not fully enforced. A judicial decision was made by Judge Frances Cases on June 29, 2010.
The judge’s decision was not discussed during the meeting.
By the time the county was called in to deal with things, Baca was living with more than 43 cats. The current city animal ordinance limits ownership to five, with the exception of special permits.
Scott had other concerns related to the house and its effect on neighborhood health and property values. Specifically, she asked why nearly two weeks after the initial task force was sent in to deal with the house, the city, which had provided both employees and resources to augment the county resources provided, had neither followed up on its promise to clean the premises nor shut off utilities. She suggested condemning the building.
City Building Inspector Mike Czosnek said that the building could not be condemned on structural grounds, and that only a health department official could condemn the building for health reasons.
Scott was also concerned about a fire risk, citing the flammable nature of the fumes given off by decaying cat excrement and the spark potential, which she said would be dramatically reduced by shutting off utilities.
Next, Dorothy Brook, the treasurer of Animal Protective Association of Socorro, spoke on behalf of Juanita Gordon of the budding local nonprofit group Claws and Paws Rescue.
Gordon, who was unable to attend the meeting, suggested an ordinance modification that would require all pets be spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted breeding and reduce the resulting health and safety issues. Gordon recommended everyone get a city license to own a pet and to spay or neuter their animals.
Cost is an obstacle to spaying or neutering pets for many families. Both veterinarians in town charge around $150 to spay or neuter a pet, with prices going up or down depending on the size of the animal. APAS offers discount coupons for financially disadvantaged pet owners.
The current city animal ordinance requires owners to license and spay or neuter all pets, with the exception of owners with a breeding license. Bhasker said he will be prioritizing enforcement of ordinances over funding spay and neuter programs.
Although most of the meeting was discussion, the council did take some action. It unanimously approved publicizing a proposed amendment that would modify the current animal ordinance in two ways.
The first modification, which deletes a phrase from the existing definition of “restraint,” will effectively result in a city-wide leash law.
The second addition will require dog owners to properly dispose of their dogs’ feces.
There will be a public consideration for residents of Socorro regarding the proposed amendment at the next city council meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, July 2.
The Animal Control Ordinance advisory board meets at 5:30 p.m. every third Tuesday at City Hall.