4 Investigations: Albuquerque’s ‘Unique’ Reason for Breaking Its Own Animal Welfare Law
âWe brought this one in,â said Carolyn Ortega, director of the animal welfare department, âand we probably won’t do it again. It was justâ¦ it was the perfect storm.â
In its 20,000+ words, the HEART order does not provide for a âperfect stormâ exception. Its strict rules are why the case of a one-year-old Belgian Malinois at the Eastside Refuge is so interesting.
The female dog, a female, was not spayed when she was brought in on October 29. The breed, which resembles a German Shepherd, is known to be determined, intelligent, and a popular choice for K9 law enforcement units. Within minutes of being ushered into the shelter’s admission hall, the animal was placed in a $ 20 priority hold by the Albuquerque Police Department sergeant. Jason Saavedra.
The DPA veteran works with the department’s K9 unit and, according to the city, had his police unit full at the city’s gas pumps next to the shelter. Animal welfare officials said he recognized the woman bringing the stray dog, questioned him about it and followed the couple to the shelter. This is a circumstance that the director of the Ortega department has described as “unique”.
Once the dog became available for adoption, shelter records obtained by KOB 4 show that Saavedra asked a shelter supervisor to give her the dog “intact” – or without being spayed. This is a request that the city should have refused, according to the HEART ordinance. Records show the shelter supervisor knew Saavedra was working with the police department and that Saavedra planned to “train this dog as a personal protective pet for his family.” He requested this consideration because of concerns about sterilization before the age of two that could cause problems with growth, motivation and health. “
The HEART prescription provides an exception for sterilization: the health of the animal, as documented by a veterinarian. The dog’s file contains no evidence that ever occurred; instead, repeatedly showing that the director of animal welfare operations, Joel Craig, approved Saavedra’s adoption of the dog with only a promise that the officer would have her spayed within a year.
This exception alone raised eyebrows among city workers, one of whom contacted KOB 4 and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation in the workplace.
âThey can’t do it,â the employee said of the shelter’s decision. “We never did that.”
The rules are so strict that if the dog had been claimed by its owner, the city still wouldn’t have released it without modifying the animal first. This is unless this is the first time at the shelter for a dog that had an “intact” license; a document that allows an owner to have an animal that can be bred. On November 2, Saavedra left with the dog and an intact license.
Again, the employee said, this is something that does not happen for a member of the general public.
“We make them follow the city ordinance, but allow someone else not to follow the same ordinance that applies to everyone?” It doesn’t make sense, âthe employee said.
This is all the more true as Saavedra has a second file in the city’s system with a second internal identification number and a second license intact for another Belgian Malinois. A male.
Reached by phone, Saavedra told KOB 4 that the dog, now named Xyra, was not in breeding. He said he contacted a breeder for advice and the breeder told him that an unaltered dog would be a healthier dog. Saavedra did not say if he had submitted some sort of veterinary documentation regarding the dog’s health, as required by city law.
The body of veterinary work on the health effects of sterilization / sterilization orders is not as comprehensive as one might think, said Dr Heather Weir. A professor in the highly regarded College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, Weir teaches sterilization / sterilization to veterinarians.
âYes, there can be exceptions individually,â she said. “Sometimes an animal is just not healthy enough to have surgery at the time of adoption.”
Dr Weir said Belgian Malinois are considered to have a mature skeleton – an important marker for preparation for sterilization or sterilization – between 9 months and a year. Also, the argument for keeping a female intact for training purposes is not strong.
âFor the woman, estrogen is really not the same type of steroid (as testosterone),â she said. âAnd so I’m not sure you’re really going to hamper muscle development or cause changes in a woman like you would in a man. “
Spaying or neutering laws are almost unassailable as a means of controlling burgeoning pet populations. To make unnecessary exceptions, said Dr Weir, is to ask for trouble.
âTrying to keep track of the individual animals that come out unaltered and then ensuring their owners follow that sterilization becomes, really, a management nightmare for a shelter. And then it becomes too, what if they say they’re just not going to do it? Are you really going to take the animal back from them? explained Dr. Weir.
From the shelter’s point of view, the policeman and the dog made an almost ideal match. He had experience with the breed and, perhaps more importantly, said Ortega, they expected this to be the last time they would see the animal. She said the second intact license, however, concerned her.
âIt bothers me,â she said. âI didn’t know until after the fact. “
Xyra will not be seized by the city, which continues to be understaffed and overcrowded at its two shelters.
While shelter staff reportedly knew Saavedra was a police officer, he was apparently not acting in an official capacity. Albuquerque Police have not commented on this story.