Thursday, December 31, 2009

Scott dogs in AC custody will be evaluated

Pit bull advocates such as myself have been lobbying the Dona Ana County Animal Control's leadership for a fair assessment of the Scott dogs the brothers did not claim before a final determination is made about their disposition. It looks like our voices were heard because the supervisor assured us that a search is on right now for a qualified behaviorist to come evaluate the dogs. Any deemed adoptable will be placed in homes; any deemed worthy and capable of rehabilitation may go to rescues capable of handling that challenge; and any deemed vicious or severely aggressive to either humans or other dogs may still be euthanized. Already, some rescues have stepped up to the plate and agreed to take the dogs in; some individuals have also stepped up to offer donations of resources toward the rescue and rehabilitation of these remaining dogs.

Overall, this is a step in the progressive direction for the AC department, and let's be honest, it's the least they can do for these 5 to 7 dogs that remain in their custody and care. If some of these can be saved, it may not make up for the 50 other dogs that either did not make it through the system or those that were recently returned to their former abusers, but it will be a better ending to this horrible story than if they are all systematically put down without a fair, independent assessment.

First, there is one hurdle that needs to be crossed. The AC department has to go before the judge in this case to ask for the assessment to be allowed for the dogs. In many dogfighting cases, it is the judges that call for the complete extermination of all the surviving animals.

Let's hope for the best in this case. Let's hope the dogs get the fair chance they and all victims of abuse deserve at a second chance at life -- a good life free of neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, we all fear the fates of the dogs returned to the Scott brothers, and there isn't anything any of us can do to legally help those dogs.

I was reading the statement of arrest for this case from its beginning in 2007; it is available via this link: For a listing of all the counts of animal cruelty charged in this case, see this link:

Though I agree that in our country we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of our peers, many an innocent man has been convicted and then later found innocent; many a man has been put to death by capital punishment for crimes they didn't commit; and alternately, many a guilty man has gotten off on a technicality or because they can afford a Dream Team of lawyers for a top-notch defense. The color of justice is--for the most part--green.

When you read the details of this case and the amount of eyewitness testimony as well as physical evidence pointing to the severe neglect, starvation, and abuse the dogs suffered while the brothers had them on their properties in El Paso and Chaparral, there is no doubt how much they suffered and how much more they will suffer now. You can also see the brothers have been covering up their deeds with this story of being show dog breeders and kennel operators for a long time as well.

In my mind and heart, there is also little doubt the dogs were abused and used for dogfighting out rightly and bred to be sold to dog fighters in other areas. Then, after being rescued from this horrible life, the dogs went on to suffer more in the animal-welfare system itself in the intense confinement they lived in as "evidentiary items". Nearly three years later, and most of these dogs were returned to the very beginning of their hell, while just a few await their fates at the hands of our justice system. It seems only those that did not survive in the system--those that died from disease or who were put down accidentally, etc.--may have escaped with the least harm done overall.

That the brothers were not found guilty in the eyes of our justice system does not negate nor erase the suffering of the victims in this case. Nevertheless, I always hope that people can change and know they sometimes do. Sometimes, they learn their lessons. All I can personally hope for is that these men have changed for the better and are doing right by the dogs they took back and are finding them proper, safe placement instead of more suffering or harm. I can't say my faith in this is strong, but I can hope for the dogs' sake and for my sake, too -- so that I can get some sleep at night thinking that maybe their suffering will end and be replaced with some peace and doggy happiness.

On that note, I wish all of you a safe, peaceful, and happy new year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pit Bulls Deserve a Fair, Independent Assessment

Pit-bull type dogs that end up in a shelter environment deserve an independent behavior assessment by a qualified, trained behaviorist before automatically being put down because of their breed. Actually, progressive animal welfare calls for a fair, equitable assessment for each individual animal in the system no matter the breed, size, age, etc., of the animal. This is also true for pits seized in dogfighting cases, such as the Scott brothers dogs. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, a qualified behaviorist is not on staff at our animal shelter nor at the Dona Ana County Animal Control department.

Yesterday's LCSN cover story, "Uncertain Future", talked about the disposition of the dogs in the Scott case. Because the evidence collected by the Dona Ana County Sheriff/AC department was inadmissible in court due to an illegally-obtained search warrant, these dogs are being returned to the Scotts after the dismissal of the case by the courts.

In yesterday's story, it says the brothers are sending the dogs they are picking up to Virginia, Houston, El Paso, and Mexico. It does not say where, exactly, they are being sent. Reading between the lines, one hopes they are not being sent back into the dogfighting arena. Twelve were picked up by the brothers on Dec. 15th, and the remaining dogs will be picked up this Tuesday, Dec. 22nd, at 1 p.m.

All this time, the brothers have claimed they were breeders of show dogs, but anyone that saw these dogs witnessed the battle scars of fighting and saw how dog-aggressive some of the dogs were as well. That is not a trait bred into show dogs at all.

There is no doubt in my mind that the dogs were used for fighting, but that is my limited, personal opinion and one I have a right to as anyone else does. I just hope to God I am wrong about their past and what I fear is a sad, abusive future at the hands of whomever they are being given to now. As it stands now, there is no justice for animals in most regressive animal-welfare and control systems. Even if the perpetrators of neglect and cruelty are charged and convicted and pay for their crimes, most animals in these cases suffer at the hands of everyone and usually end up dead at the end of the long, judiciary road.

Back to this particular case, those dogs not claimed by the Scott brothers will stay at the shelter and probably face being put down because of the supposed irreparable damage of being bred by dog fighters and their fearful natures after being in intense confinement for almost three years with little-to-no enrichment. Some of these dogs, those pictured in the LCSN story, were raised in this environment since they were 7 weeks old. It is no wonder they fear humans and everything around them. I don't have to be an expert behaviorist to figure that out.

That said, fearfulness and other problem behaviors can be rehabilitated in the right hands. Look at how many dogs have turned around once outside their stressful environments. Extreme cases, such as the Vic dogs taken on by Best Friends, Bad Rap, and other pit groups nationwide, show that many of these dogs are savable, even some that were aggressive in the past. That's why they deserve a fair shot and an INDEPENDENT assessment.

Anyone reading this blog post that cares about these remaining Scott dogs, please contact the shelter and the AC department to advocate for a behaviorist to be brought in to assess the remaining dogs. Please ask them to not automatically put the dogs down for fearfulness or to make room at the shelter. After the years of suffering these dogs have lived through, they deserve at least a shot at a new life and a placement in a safe environment where they can be assessed and rehabilitated, such as with a rescue or appropriate foster home.

You can reach the animal shelter, the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley, from 12 noon to 6 p.m. at 575-682-0018. You can reach the AC department in charge of these dogs, the Dona Ana County Animal Control, at 575-525-8846.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Small steps forward for our community

Looking back on the last year of animal-welfare efforts in our community, there have been some small steps in the right direction and more groups and individuals working together to help animals as well as the people who care for them. Last weekend at the Farmer's Market, I was talking to the animal shelter's volunteer coordinator, who reported that on the weekend of Black Friday, more than 50 animals were adopted from the shelter. The successful weekend started at the parking lot of Wal-Mart off Valley, and the shelter was using the Pet's Barn adoption mobile unit at that location that day. Eighteen good adoptions took place that day alone.

It's clear our shelter is making a more concerted effort in the area of comprehensive adoption programs, or at least they are getting out into the community more for off-site adoptions. I'm sure this has helped increase their adoption numbers, and it must have something to do with the kill rate dropping a few percentage points this year. However, that kill rate will not drop dramatically until all of the No Kill Equation's list of programs and services is implemented in our community, and the animal shelter must be at the forefront of those efforts.

Outside of the shelter, independent animal rescuers and advocates are networking and working together more so than has been the cast in the past (from what I understand). I have been in Las Cruces myself for about five years and involved in animal welfare here the last few years.

This year, the SNAP program partnered with the Dona Ana County Animal Control department to run their mobile spay/neuter unit in outlying areas of the county. Because of these efforts, hundreds of animals were altered in Chaparral, Del Cero, Radium Springs, Hatch, and other locations. The van also ran a couple of times at the Community of Hope in Las Cruces to help homeless pet guardians fix their companions.

This year as well, HSSNM has fostered and adopted out more dogs and cats than ever before. They now hold cat adoptions at PetSmart on a regular basis as well as monthly super adoptions where their fostered cats and dogs are featured. They now have a full pet help line and are engaging with the public one call at a time. They help advise those that have lost and found pets or need to re-home their pets for whatever reason.

SHAS continues its work as the sole no-kill sanctuary for dogs and cats. Those dogs and cats that get accepted into SHAS are the lucky ones, and the animals are well-cared for and adopted out to good homes. Those that cannot be adopted out live out the rest of their lives at the sanctuary.

There are many breed rescues that also play big roles in saving lives -- one cat and dog at a time. The feral cat management program at NMSU is showing local detractors that TNR works, and they have the database and numbers to prove it. They also have a legion of volunteers that work tirelessly to feed and care for the cats on the college's campus. The director of that program also helps advise people in the community on what they can do to help the cats in their areas, and she has stood before the city council, county commission, and any other local leaders who would listen to advocate for changing ordinances so that we can stop killing 80+% of the cats that get taken to our animal shelter while never making dent in the homeless numbers.

As the new kid on the block, APA has started a pet food bank that has distributed about 31,000 pounds of food to date to qualified low-income, unemployed, disabled, elderly, and homeless recipients. The group holds information tabling events and food drives regularly outside of Sam's Club and at local festivals and other events. They list animals in need on their website (lost/found/those needing new homes), and they hope their outreach efforts start having an impact as well.

Overall, more people are working harder to save dog and cat lives in Dona Ana County. Those are the small steps we can be proud of, but we have only started movement in a forward direction. We have years and years and hours and hours to go before we turn things around.

Here's to next year hopefully showing even more efforts at lifesaving, including a huge hope that our animal shelter will comprehensively and simultaneously get to the point where they are implementing all the programs and services needed (see list at right) to save most of the lives of the nearly 15,000 animals that still end up at their facility. More than any other entity or group, the shelter has the longest way to go.