Alibi V.15 No.19 • May 11-17, 2006 

Council Watch

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

“The way a community responds to its animals reflects how that community responds to its citizens,” in the words of Councilor Sally Mayer, CAO Gail Reese and ... Mahatma Gandhi?
“The way a community responds to its animals reflects how that community responds to its citizens,” in the words of Councilor Sally Mayer, CAO Gail Reese and ... Mahatma Gandhi?
Wes Naman

At the May 1 City Council meeting, citizens packed the underground chamber to argue over Councilor Sally Mayer's long-deferred, massive HEART ordinance designed to control treatment of animals in the city. Meanwhile, up on Civic Plaza, "Day Without an Immigrant" marchers filtered in from Tiguex Park, a film company's trucks ringed the plaza and the Convention Center was actually busy.

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After Mayer moved her bill and began introducing amendments, the Council discussed at length whether the bill's language would expose the city to legal liability. Councilor Isaac Benton moved an amendment framing the city's protection of animals as a moral obligation rather than a legal duty and deleting the phrase "the way a community responds to its animals reflects how that community responds to its citizens." Mayer said she got the phrase from Chief Administrative Officer Gail Reese, who probably got it from Mahatma Gandhi. Benton's amendment passed. Council President Martin Heinrich amended the bill to allow animal organizations a blanket permit for multiple adoption events.

Councilor Don Harris, who is sponsoring Mayor Martin Chavez' competing but more limited animal bill, asked Reese if the city had estimated the cost of Mayer's bill. Reese said the ongoing yearly cost would be approximately $5.6 million above current costs, not including capital outlays. Mayer said she was shocked at the amount and that the city must be getting very expensive bids for the metal food bowls to replace the plastic ones currently used at shelters. Reese said the price difference was less than $5,000. Reese said the "safe haven" provision, expected to extend an animal's stay at a city shelter from four days to 12 days, would cost $4.3 million for more handlers and feed. Also, about 28 more animal control officers would be needed for home inspections, citations and court appearances at an estimated cost of $1,750,389.

Mayer argued that the mayor's competing bill creating "live-exit" shelters would also raise costs. She said, "We have seen too many things coming from the administration that are not accurate financially."
Almost 80 people spoke. The 54 opponents to the bill said it unfairly targeted responsible "hobby breeders," raising their fee and litter permit costs from $100 to $300 per year per animal for producing the allowed maximum of four litters, which would cost a breeder $1,200. Several breeders said they could not maintain healthy gene pools with only four intact animals.

Others said the ordinance was so complex and comprehensive it would be impossible to enforce, and the city should just enforce laws already on the books. Dr. Vickie Averhoff said she and fellow veterinarians didn't want to be enforcement officers, turning over clients' names, addresses and phone numbers to the city. To opponents, Mayer said, "If you can't meet these standards, maybe you should not have pets."

The 21 supporters argued that something drastic must be done about the approximately 17,000 animals euthanized in Albuquerque each year, far more than are killed in comparable cities. Several characterized the hobby breeders as only concerned with their own financial interests. Veterinarian and
Albuquerque Journal columnist Dr. Jeff Nichol praised the ordinance for requiring environmental enrichment for companion animals. Another supporter presented petitions signed by more than 4,000 people. Animal rehabilitator Valerie Harvey described how hard it was to "clean up other people's messes."

Although each speaker was limited to a minute and a half, Harris asked questions of several bill opponents, allowing them time to respond at length. Mayer recited glowing mini-biographies of a couple of bill supporters. Cadigan said he had several amendments. Councilor Brad Winter, noting it was nearly 11 p.m., moved a continuance to the May 15 Council meeting, which will not include public comment.
Shades of Hillary's health care bill! The former first lady possibly assembled very good legislation, but I don't know and you don't either because special interests shot down the encyclopedic bill as much too complex, relieving citizens of the necessity of reading it. And health care is now 12 years worse.

Mayer began by reading three separate amendments with a total of 64 changes. Some were minor (adding the definition of "chain"), some open to interpretation (adding the adjective "reasonable"), some rather obvious ("Companion Birds are not considered Poultry in this ordinance"), some, well, evocative (adding "maggots" to the list of forbidden pests). But even with the current amendments the bill may not be complete. Cadigan asked Mayer if she were moving the entire bill. Mayer said, "I may be back." You can read the 65-page ordinance, minus the latest amendments, at Very detailed sections cover required care, maintenance, housing, restraint and transportation standards; licenses and permits; prohibited actions; lost and found procedures; rabies; and the safe haven program.

Much of the HEART ordinance seems really good, and the city desperately needs some way to reduce the number of unwanted animals, but I don't know if this is it. Sometimes the Perfect is the enemy of the Good. If I lived in Albuquerque (I live in a neighboring city), I would be reluctant to adopt another animal under the provisions of the ordinance.