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Beastly Blotter

Feral cat policy challenged in court

stray cats
stray cats

The controversial cat-management strategy known as trap-neuter-return (TNR) faces a legal challenge in Albuquerque from longtime animal activist Marcy Britton, who is in court over the city’s support of TNR as a way to control the feral cat population.

     Britton and her advocacy group, Justice for Animals, say the practice of neutering feral cats and returning them to the streets amounts to abandonment and animal cruelty. “I have actually seen the horror of what these animals suffer,” she told us, noting that she lives by a feral cat colony near Winrock Mall populated by pregnant, diseased, and injured cats. “They get hit by cars, there’s no follow-up veterinary care. One cat had a dental abscess and was starving to death. There a lot worse things than euthanasia.”
     The city works with animal advocacy groups such as Animal Humane New Mexico that trap and sterilize street cats before returning them to their colonies. Animal Humane, which introduced TNR to Albuquerque in 2008, strongly defends the practice.
     “TNR works,” says Executive Director Peggy Weigle. “Over time, with fewer free-roaming cats breeding, the unowned cat population is reduced. And with fewer cats loose in the community, the cats are healthier, since there is more food to go around and less fighting.” Weigle notes that Animal Humane saw a 32 percent drop in kitten intakes in the period 2010–2013, and 80 percent of kitten intakes are strays. Feline euthanasia at Animal Humane dropped 69 percent in the same period.
     Britton challenges the conclusion that feral cat populations are decreasing, and says she objects to TNR even if they are. “A municipal pound is not required to lower (mortality) statistics,” she said. “Even if the shelter isn’t euthanizing as many animals, the streets are.” Her mission, she says, is to “stop suffering, not keep them alive for six months so they get killed by something (else).” Her petition claims TNR violates state and city laws prohibiting animal cruelty.
     The city responded to Britton’s petition last month by saying the practice does not violate any laws, has the support of nationally recognized experts such as the Humane Society and ASPCA, and that the cats are not being abandoned because they do not belong to anyone.
     The case awaits a court date.
     While TNR is advocated by the “no-kill” animal movement as the only humane way to manage cat overpopulation, it is strongly opposed by bird and wildlife groups. The Audubon Society, PETA, and Wildlife Society are among wildlife advocates that say the practice helps sustain a non-native predator that is decimating native wildlife (see “Cat vs. Bird,” April/May 2013).

March elections include animal issues

Voters in the Corrales and Rio Rancho municipal elections next month face some choices that could have important consequences for homeless animals in their towns.
     Corrales in 2014 will decide which projects to fund with municipal bonds being issued to tap sales tax revenue. While some Village leaders see an opportunity to fund a beleaguered sewer project, animal-rescue groups have already started lobbying for a municipal animal shelter. They say the Village will not be able to comply with its no-kill ordinance for much longer without a city shelter.
     None of the mayoral or council candidates has indicated where they stand on the project, though some are clearly opposed to funding the sewer.
     Christine Allen and Scott Kominiak are vying for mayor of Corrales, after incumbent Phil Gasteyer chose to run (unopposed) for Council District 3. Two council seats are in play in Corrales: District 1, which pits incumbent Ennio Garcia-Miera against Tom Brown; and District 4, where incumbent John Alsobrook faces David Domburg. Both Council incumbents have been generally supportive of animal causes in the Village. Their opponents’ views were not known at press time.
     IN RIO RANCHO, four candidates are vying to replace Mayor Tom Swisstack, and three Council seats are in play, each with two to four candidates.

     Rio Rancho made animal news in 2012 when the Tea Party-led Council overturned a highly praised animal ordinance that had been passed a year before and developed in an 18-month task force process. Among the most controversial changes were lifting a ban on selling puppies and kittens in pet stores, and allowing circuses that have violated federal animal codes to perform in the City of Vision.
     Little was known at press time about the Council candidates, but one incumbent, Tim Crum in District 5, was among those who voted to overturn the animal protections. Incumbent Tamara Gutierrez in District 3 opposed the change, and has been sympathetic to animal welfare causes.
     Of the mayoral candidates, Morgan Braden’s web page describes him as a political conservative who owns a hot-air balloon and Jeep tour company. Gregg Hull until recently owned Certified Packing & Crating. Both prioritize job creation and public safety, and oppose higher taxes.
     Jim Owen and Mike Williams both served as mayor before, Owen in 2002–2006, and Williams as interim mayor for nine months in 2007–2008; he served on the City Council for 12 years after. Owen would emphasize ethics reform in Rio Rancho. Williams has said he will focus on getting government to work better for the good of the city.
     It is not known where any of the candidates stand on restoring the animal welfare protections.

     MEANWHILE, SANTA FE animal advocates, led by Council member and mayoral candidate Patti Bushee, are working to get an anti-tethering ordinance passed in the City Different. The proposal would ban stationary tethers, but still allow tethers attached to a trolley.
     The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal Feb. 12, and it is unclear when the final vote will be taken. But Santa Fe also has municipal elections in early March, and four of the seven mayoral candidates are currently serving on the Council.
     According to Ben Swan, public information officer for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society, Councilor and mayoral candidate Javier Gonzales, along with Bushee, has been a supporter of animal causes in the past.

Taking notice of that other rescue dog

Prairie dogs have been popping up in the news lately, apparently capturing the public interest long sought by advocates.
     A study published last month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has gotten attention for appearing to solve the mystery of why prairie dogs do the “jump-yip,” leaping to their back legs and squeaking. When one dog does it, others tend to follow. Prairie dogs are known to have a complex language, but the meaning of this gesture remained mysterious until now.
     Researchers studied 16 prairie dog towns for months on end, and concluded that the jump-yip is a way to take stock of the group’s awareness, and thus determine whether it is safe to forage without worrying about predators nearby. The study reinforces the idea that prairie dogs have highly developed social awareness.
     A news item about a Texas prairie dog rescuer transferring two dozen animals to Carlsbad, N.M., got a surprising amount of local airplay in January, although the transfer happened in October.
     Joann Haddock of Citizens for Prairie Dogs regularly moves Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs off the grounds of a disability support agency in Lubbock, where their tunnels create a tripping hazard. Having heard that prairie dogs were dying off at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, she trapped and moved 24 of them to the state park in Carlsbad.
     Less widely reported than this feel-good human-interest story was the news in late November that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has again denied the animal Endangered Species Act protection, in this case for the Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, which is the species found in New Mexico.
     Although the population plummeted more than 95 percent over the last century, the FWS determined that the current population is stable and not in need of protection.
     Albuquerque-based WildEarth Guardians is planning to sue the agency over the decision, saying the rodents continue to be threatened by land development, oil and gas drilling, poisoning, plague, and sport shooting. Last August, more than 500 prairie dogs were killed in a shooting contest sponsored by Gunhawk Firearms of Los Lunas.
     The FWS similarly denied protection to the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog in 2009 and the White-Tailed Prairie Dog in 2010, and only lists as threatened one American species, the Utah Prairie Dog, found in high-elevation areas of southwestern Utah.

News of the year

Stephens photo
Photographer Stephen Lang is among the past winners of the annual equine photo contest put on by Cimarron Sky-Dog Wild Horse Sanctuary. His atmospheric shot of wild horses is being used to publicize a wild-horse film festiva in Santa Fe in April.

Equestrians probably don’t need reminding that this is the Year of the Horse in the Chinese Zodiac. For anyone else who may have overlooked this bit of astrological trivia, a herd of art-related horse events are galloping our way.
          Currently on display at the Albuquerque Museum are more than 150 pieces of gorgeous handcrafted tack, props, and costumes, part of a touring exhibition about charreria, or Mexican rodeo. Rarely seen outside of Mexico, these objects speak to the rich history of the charros, cowboys from the Mexican haciendas of the 1800s. The modern charreria came into its own as an exhibition sport after the Mexican Revolution brought an end to hacienda life. Arte en la Charreria: The Artisanship of Mexican Equestrian Culture runs through March 30.
     A mini film festival about wild horses takes place in Santa Fe the first weekend in April. Sponsored by the Cimarron Sky-Dog Wild Horse Sanctuary, the series opens with a free screening of El Caballo at Collected Works Bookstore in conjunction with the opening of an exhibit of winning entries in the sanctuary’s annual photo contest. If you’re an amateur photographer with horses in your portfolio, you might want to check out the contest rules. Deadline is Feb. 25.
     Winning photographs will be exhibited at Collected Works from April 1 to June 1. The opening reception is April 4 at 5 p.m., with the film screening at 6 p.m. The following night, five films will be shown at the Palace of the Governors auditorium from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Details will be at
     The New Mexico Art League will have an exhibition called The Spirit of the Horse from March 22 to April 27, with an opening reception March 30 from 11 to 5. The Asian-themed celebration will include tea, pottery, crafts, a feng shui master, and an adoptable horse from Walkin N Circles Ranch serving as drawing model for interested artists. And Matrix Fine Art plans an exhibit of horse-related art in May. Check  for updates.

     THE YEAR OF THE HORSE also marks an end to two years of efforts by would-be slaughtering plants to restart commercial horsemeat processing in the United States. Valley Meat Co. in Roswell and plants in Missouri and Iowa hit a wall with the signing in January by President Barack Obama of a budget measure that blocks funding for federal agriculture inspections needed to ship horse meat out of state.

     Valley Meat had already been blocked from opening by state Attorney General Gary King, who sued on the grounds that the former cattleprocessing plant was unsanitary and would contaminate the food chain. Plant owner Rick De los Santos had hoped to convert his cattle plant, which closed in 2012, to butcher horses, arguing that domestic slaughter is preferable to shipping horses to plants in Mexico and Canada.
     The last U.S. horsemeat plants closed after funding was cut for USDA inspections in 2005. Congress reinstated funding in 2011, but the plants have faced heavy legal opposition by environmental and animal rights groups.