Dog Owner and ‘Rescuer’ Clash Over Rights and Responsibilities
Two recent situations involving Corrales Animal Control point out the important role that citizens play in balancing the needs of animals, both resident and stray, and their humans.
In early October a resident lost his border collie mix, a dog with a tendency to run off. This time, the dog did not return. A few days later the owner saw a single sign posted at the entrance to the Village, and contacted the finder. She told him the dog had no tags, was emaciated and flea-ridden, and she had run up $600 of veterinary bills to have him examined, vaccinated, neutered, and microchipped. She wanted reimbursement. The dog owner was furious, claimed she had mutilated his dog, and refused to pay. The case appears headed for civil court.
One key aspect of this case is that the finder of the dog never contacted Animal Control, and the dog owner also chose to handle the dispute himself. According to Officer Frosty, no Village ordinance was violated on either side. The dog would not be considered stolen unless he were taken from the owner’s property, or had identifying tags. And there is no legal obligation to turn in a stray animal (except for livestock). But it would have been the morally correct thing to do, Frosty said. if no owner could be found in three days—or five for a dog with tags—the finder could have kept the dog without challenge.
If a dog appears uncared for, Frosty added, the owner can be fined or charged. But this is also best addressed by Animal Control, whose job is to mediate disputes.
In another situation that began over the summer, a 12-year-old girl walking her elderly Lab was bitten by a loose Chihuahua. According to Frosty, the dog owners already had multiple complaints about aggressive dogs running loose, and all three dogs had tried to bite him. Protective behavior by dogs is not unusual or illegal—many people keep dogs for this purpose—but dogs must be contained on property. Because the owner has been unwilling to comply with Village ordinance, the case is headed to court, where the judge must constantly balance the rights of dog ownership and public safety.
Both cases, notes Frosty, point to the importance of voluntary compliance to keep Animal Control cases out of court and police involvement. “If you find an animal, just call us,” he says—and the same is true for disputes. “We have the resources to deal with the situation. Animals will not be euthanized.”