The laws of living with pets changed for Albuquerqueans on Oct. 10 of last year, the day the city’s HEART ordinance went into effect. Yet the real deadline for the legislation is still a few days away, on April 10, when the six-month grace period for the new rules will expire. The legislation—which stands for Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment—requires a number of actions from pet owners within Albuquerque city limits: They must have their dogs and cats spayed or neutered or else buy annual “intact permits” for their pets that allow them to go unscathed; owners must have their pets microchipped or tattooed; and if their pets are going to have babies, owners will have to purchase litter permits from the city, set with a six-month expiration date.
If people don’t follow the outlined rules and their pets are picked up by Animal Services and brought to the city’s animal shelters—or if pets are reported in other ways—owners will be cited with petty misdemeanors, which have a maximum penalty of $500 and up to 90 days in jail.
Needless to say, many questions have arisen with the new legislation. The Alibi talked to Assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler, who helped write the HEART ordinance, and Denise Wilcox, the head of the city’s animal shelters, to get you some answers.
If my pet is picked up by Animal Services after April 10 and isn’t spayed/neutered and microchipped, is there a fine?
Yes. Violation of any part of the HEART ordinance is counted as a petty misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is $500 and 90 days in jail, but Wheeler says he’s never seen judges order the full penalty on animal cases. The fine and sentencing, however, is ultimately up to the judge assigned to the case.
What if I don’t want to spay/neuter my pets?
You don’t have to spay or neuter them if you buy an “intact permit,” which costs $150 and lasts for one year. If you want to breed your pet, you need to buy a litter permit, which is also $150 and lasts for six months.
Do litter permits just go to purebreds or can any dog or cat get one?
Any dog or cat can get a litter permit.
If my pet is picked up and isn’t spayed/neutered and doesn’t have an intact permit, what’s the protocol? Can I still buy an intact permit?
No. After April 10, if your pet is picked up and brought to the shelters, you can no longer buy an intact permit. Your pet will be spayed/neutered. Therefore, if you don’t want to spay or neuter your pet, it’s imperative that you get a permit as soon as possible.
Warning: If your pet has an intact permit but is picked up a second time, your pet will be spayed/neutered even with the permit.
Are there any exceptions?
If you can get a note from your vet that says your pet is too young, old or sick to have the surgery, then your pet won’t be spayed/neutered.
In the above scenario, will my pet be spayed/neutered immediately, before I’m called?
No, you will be called first.
In that situation, can I take my pet to its normal vet for the surgery?
No, the surgery will be performed by one of the veterinarians at the animal shelters or by one of the vets with which the shelters contract out.
What if my pet is picked up and doesn’t have a microchip or any identification?
Animals without ID are held for five days before they’re given surgery (unless an animal is extremely sick) or made available for adoption. If your pet is missing, you should check with both shelters regularly to see if your pet is there.
If my animal is picked up and isn’t spayed/neutered, how much will I be charged for the surgery?
The surgery is $50. But when you pick your animal up you’ll also have to pay a reclaim fee, which is $25 the first time. The second time your animal is picked up, the fee is $35 and every time after that it’s $45. You’ll also pay $6 a day for every day your pet’s been in the shelters, minus the first day.
If my animal is picked up, will it be microchipped if it isn’t already?
Yes, your pet will have to be microchipped before it can leave the shelters. You also have the option of having your pet tattooed instead of microchipped, but would need to have that done before your pet is picked up.
How much will I be charged for microchipping?
If your animal is picked up, the cost for microchipping is $9 plus a $6 license fee for the microchip.
If my pet is microchipped, does it still have to wear tags?
Dogs do, but cats don’t. The reason the city gives for this is that cats are often disturbed by tags.
Can I get my pet spayed/neutered or microchipped at the shelters before it’s picked up?
You can schedule to get your pet microchipped at the shelters for $15, plus a $6 license fee. However, the shelters do not offer spay/neuter to the public.
What if I’m low-income?
In that case, you can get free microchipping and free spay/neuter at the shelters. You can also get these benefits if you’re 65 or older. This counts if your pet is picked up.
Does the city send officers to residences to check on enforcement? Are veterinarians forced to report if pet owners are violating the ordinance?
No, the city doesn’t send officers to people’s homes, although it does have the authority to do so and may in the future. Vets are not forced to report violations.
If my pet is microchipped and I move, does it cost money to update my information?
No, the service is free and should be done through the microchip company and not the city.
Is the city hiring more vets in anticipation of the ordinance?
The shelters have four vets on staff right now. If the demand for surgeries increases (and the city expects it will), more vets will be hired.
How many pets can I have?
HEART allows you to only have six pets, with a maximum of four dogs. For the purposes of the legislation, only dogs and cats are considered “pets.”
If I already have more pets than that, what should I do?
Call the Animal Care Center at 311 (the Citizen Contact Center handles calls for the shelters) and request a permit for “multiple animals.” The permit costs $25 and lasts for one year. In order to be approved, animal service officers will inspect your home to make sure you provide a quality living environment for your pets. If you’re approved, you may be allowed to have up to 15 dogs and cats, but the exact number will be decided by the officer.
In order to not be cited for a petty misdemeanor when you apply for the permit, it must be approved before April 10.
Where can I buy all these permits?
Call the Animal Care Center at 311.