by Kate Kuligowski, DWAA member
Seldom do my husband Wally and I find ourselves in the Southwest quadrant of our city where crime statistics have intimidated outsiders for decades. During that visit, we frequent only one business, a decades-old, hole-in-the-wall Mexican food take-out with to-die-for food, El Modelo. That’s where the phone-text of August found us, exiting the restaurant with a package of three dozen chile rellenos. Texting is an unusual form of communication for many of us over 70, the generation whose sole use for cells is additions to grocery lists.
This message was from a local animal rescue, New Mexico Animal Friends, alerting us to a recent county raid on a breeding/hoarding location in which 21 Lhasa Apsos, supposedly all show dogs, were seized. The county shelter, who had been awarded custody of 18, had spent the last three months treating the various physical and behavioral issues of these ill and neglected dogs. Now that they were in better health, they were asking area rescue groups to take possession of some to be adopted. The texted photos and accompanying grim copy described all of the previously malnourished and emaciated dogs as still with serious eye conditions and in need of dental care. A few had other major ailments, requiring ongoing veterinary care. Would we consider fostering?
After reading their write-up, memories of past similar rescues in that area came roaring back into our unwilling minds. Neither Wally nor I could speak of the atrocities these pups had suffered. Silence was heavy as we both asked ourselves the same question. “Did we really have the time to take on another rescue?” At that time, we had eight: an ill and elderly Black Labrador, an emotionally damaged Pug, a Chow-Sharpei with untreatable edema, an elderly Rat Terrier-Chihuahua cross with degenerative myelopathy, a Shepherd cross with behavioral issues, a needy elderly black Saluki-Cocker cross, a Boston Terrier who was first among equals, and a very old but playful Abyssinian kitty.
Shelters and rescue organizations in our state have great difficulty in finding homes even for healthy pets, resulting in our unacceptable levels of euthanasia for room. Jiminy Cricket was pounding on our consciences, working overtime.
We required additional information so I suggested, “Let me phone the shelter’s director, Mirasol. Even though the shelter is closed today, Monday, she is always working overtime. We are only blocks away.”
“Mirasol, are you finding rescue groups to take in these Lhasa Apsos?”
“It is difficult, Kate. They were, and some still are, in dire shape.”
“Sorry. I know you are trying. Wally and I are just up the street. How about we drop in and visit with these little guys…now?”
“Well, sure, come on over. I’ll contact my assistant, Lela, who just left in our van to deliver the dogs to our off-property boarding.”
Marisol was waiting by the opened shelter door when we arrived. Recently built in 2019, their 17,000 square feet animal care and resource center can house 117 to 150 dogs and 80 to 100 cats, in comparison to 30 total in their previous quarters. Still, they were overcrowded.
She explained, “I had problems reaching Lela, but she left one of the dogs here by mistake, so she will be coming back soon anyway. Would you like to see the one, Cocoa Puff, while you wait? She is almost 17, blind, almost deaf and her three remaining teeth are badly decayed.”
When we saw her, all I could say was, “Wow! What a feisty gal!” Like a queen, she pranced around the empty office exhibiting no symptoms of the ugliness of her former 17 years spent, neglected in a filthy kennel.”
Our raised eyebrows and tilted heads were indications of the possible imprudence of our decision. Wally smiled and broke the silence, “Well, with that haughty attitude, Cocoa Puff will certainly hold her own in our crew.”
On our drive home, with Cocoa Puff on my lap, I contacted my rescue buddy, Gloria, a volunteer for PACA (People’s Anti-Cruelty Association). Within the week, she became a foster for one of the 18, an eight-year-old Jordan whom (by an unusual rib protrusion) we deduced was probably Cocoa Puff’s son. Difficult to place, Gloria’s loveable and handsome Jordan has behavioral issues which undecidedly limit his field of adopters. Although super-loving with women, he is aggressive with all men and all-sized dogs. This conduct immediately eliminates, as forever homes, those households with permanent or visiting dogs or men. Even with considerable vetting, Gloria, whose house provides a home to a variety of other pets, has spent months arranging for Jordan’s home visits, walks, sleepovers, play-days and the like with probable adopters without achieving the forever match. Gloria justifies the rigidity of her guidelines for his adoption. “He was so abused before, it is important that he lives in a 24-hour environment emanating affection and warmth, tailored to his needs.”
Cocoa Puff, despite her many medical afflictions (not to mention her age), is our self-appointed, cocky leader. Her time-telling skills are without error, and her dibs to rule the roost is firm. To ensure that we are hearing and heeding her raspy impatient message that the time is 7 am or 5 pm, on the dot, this precious, precocious 13-pounder commands the whole of our kitchen floor, literally leaping a foot off the floor, sometimes performing tour jetes until her breakfast/dinner is served. She thinks that these histrionics cause us to serve her first, but that is not the case. Because of her few and fragile teeth, it takes our little Cocoa Puff almost 20 minutes to finish her meal, even though her kibble is Osterized.
Many veterinarian visits followed for both dogs, and while waiting in the office on one such occasion, Gloria and I compared the stories we had been told and what we had observed and agreed that their papered histories didn’t mesh. Our curiosity tempted Gloria and me to do a teensy bit of investigative work into their breeder’s history. In no time, “teensy” mushroomed into copious amounts of time. After gathering case-specific info online through statecourt.com, scrolling through microfiche, examining a full 16-gigabyte police flash drive, conducting countless interviews, enlisting the clandestine aid of a private investigator and reviewing requested copies of official reports from both city and county law enforcement and animal sheltering agencies, we pieced together the unrevealed, disturbing data which we referred to as the “unimaginable, out of sight, out of mind avoidable ordeal of 27 innocents.”
We were shocked at what we uncovered. This was not the first time this neglectful owner had been raided and charged with animal cruelty. This was the second time in only five-and-one-half years for many of these dogs. Our research extended back to December 2013 when criminal charges involving risks to the health and well-being of nine of her then 29 (in 2013) dogs were brought against this breeder/hoarder in Metro Court Case T-CR-2014-003884.
That 2013 court hearing resulted in only five of these dogs permanently surrendered to the county shelter. The remaining 24 dogs were allowed to remain at the premises with the breeder/hoarder through five motions for continuance. The trial was rescheduled 11 months away, leaving these dogs unchecked in potentially hazardous conditions. This extended time was allowed so that the defendant might secure missing but required-by-law paperwork, inoculations, sterilizations, licenses and contracts needed to adhere to current animal laws. It was also necessary for the submitted construction of appropriate, safe and healthy living accommodations for these remaining pets. During that 11-month trial continuance, no instructions/provisions were dictated by the court for scheduled wellness and safety checks by County Animal Care (CAC) on the 24 dogs remaining on-premises.
On November 18, 2014, the judge dismissed this case, ruling, “The Defendant is now in compliance with the BCAC Ordinances.” But, to ensure the future health and wellbeing of the dogs on the defendant’s property, the court did not order, nor did CAC schedule any inspections. Nor were there CAC records of any inspections from that 2014 date until the second APD and CAC raid on the same residence in 2019.
On May 2, 2019, four and a half years after the dismissal of Case T-4-CR-2014-003884, an officer representing Albuquerque Police Department (APD), quite by accident, stumbled back into time, onto a repeat of the case with the prior defendant still residing at the same address. However, this time the animal abuse had escalated and was described as “horrific.” The officer had been investigating another incident for which he held a search warrant for the address of the same 2014 animal cruelty case.
Once the officer, with a search warrant, was allowed by the homeowner to search the residential premises (for a case unrelated to animal cruelty), the officer was forced to suit-up in a bio-hazard suit with a full-face respirator for protection of the saturation of animal feces and urine blanketing all surfaces of all rooms. His evaluation of the situation was as follows. “Through my training and experience with animal cruelty, the condition of the animals in this residence (27 dogs and 2 cats not counting hidden animals in closets, under furniture and hard to reach areas), revealed severe neglect and cruelty. This necessitated my filming these animals and their environment and contacting CAC, who would undergo a search to seize the animals. Feces were so thick in some areas as to glue the dogs to the floor. Several dogs were on the verge of dying.”
Upon arriving on the scene, according to a CAC investigative report, a CAC officer warned the defendant that “she needed to make some quick changes or cruelty charges could be filed.” After CAC inspected the premises, the CAC officer stated that they would return the following morning with the required warrant. Records reveal that their exit was halted by the reporting APD officer who was forced to reiterate, by phone, his concern to the CAC supervisor that the 4 undeniably critical pets (3 dogs and 1 cat) must be immediately taken by the CAC officer to a veterinarian.
The following day, armed with a signed search warrant to seize all animals, the CAC veterinarian evaluated the 21 dogs they were able to locate. Dr. Moyer’s examination revealed dehydration, severe matting, poor dental health, seborrhea and corneal pigmentation in all. Ailments also diagnosed in others included cherry eye, prepuce enlargement, oral mass, umbilical hernia, lung disorder and a gingival mass. Three of the dogs died while in care and the remaining 18 dogs were treated for health issues resulting from their initial residence. This is the kicker: some were the same dogs involved in the same defendant’s 2013 case which, as explained above, was eventually dismissed. Among those were Gloria’s Jordan and his mother, our Cocoa Puff.
The county was granted custody of the 18 dogs and charges were filed on May 16, 2019, Case # D-202-CV-D202-CV-2019-0328, heard on July 16. Both prosecution and defendant attorneys presented witnesses and documents, including the flash drive revealing the disturbingly unsanitary and unsafe living conditions of those dogs. In the defendant’s report was her veterinarians’ listings of all procedures performed on these 27 plus animals in the past ten years. Although all of the dogs had been debarked, a procedure which state law requires to be performed by a veterinarian, no listing of performing the debarking surgery appeared on any of the defendant’s veterinary bills. Costs for this procedure (legal in our state) reported by area veterinarians approximated $400 for each, exceeding $10,000 for all. The elephant in the room was “illegal surgery,” a probable, agonizing cruelty which was never discussed nor investigated by prosecuting attorneys.
Four months after being charged, the defendant’s residence passed the court-ordered CAC premises inspection (at a convenient time for the defendant and allowing her 48 hours verbal notice). The session ended with another eye-opener: the last decree of the judge was the order of the return to the owner, three of the male dogs, intact.
Later that month I contacted CAC asking if they were scheduling wellness and safety checks on the three intact dogs now located on the property. Were they also checking on the defendant’s required rabies licensing and permits for breeds, litters, sale of offspring and multiple animals? The director assured me that such would be scheduled the following week, Although I have requested the report, I have received no verification from CAC. My calls to CAC since concerning re-checks have not been returned.
With our newly passed state legislation, this defendant’s 2014 offense involving multiple counts of animal abuse can be deleted, if requested, since all charges were dismissed. Her history of animal abuse will no longer be available information in future researches of animal cruelty, hoarding/breeding by that individual.
Although this scenario of frequently dismissing charges and releasing repeat animal law breeders/hoarders is commonplace in many courts across our country, it is not acceptable, and we can help these suffering dogs and cats by contacting our shelters to request monthly re-checks on pets of previous hoarding or backyard breeding hearings.
It was my Colorado friend Eva, who suggested this successful approach used by her rescue group. “Even though all animal rescue groups are overwhelmed, we have found there is, more than likely, a volunteer in each whose passion is research. With the correct tools, they are able to easily uncover past cases and property addresses of abuse/breeding/hoarding cases in their area. Their next move is to check with area animal care agencies as to whether or not wellness and safety checks are being made monthly on those premises. Our volunteers further assist our shelter by checking the validation of licensing, inoculations and permits.”
Armed with this research, rescue groups could provide the necessary stimulus for our overloaded, understaffed shelters to schedule re-checks and tell-all inspections, thus lessening the number of future Jordans, Cocoa Puffs, their litter mates and pups.