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Valencia County unchains dogs, requires roofs over their heads

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In a packed public hearing Wednesday, Valencia County commissioners approved amendments to its animal control code banning the chaining of animals and increasing outdoor shelter requirements.

The majority of comments over the two-hour hearing were in support of the amendments put forward by the county’s Animal Control Division. 

Alan Edmonds with the nonprofit Animal Protection New Mexico said the current law was established in 1997, when chaining dogs was the norm in the state.

“Since then, the animal welfare and public safety dangers of this inhumane practice have led a growing number of New Mexico’s municipalities and counties to prohibit tethering,” he told the board of commissioners, citing the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces and the counties of all three.

The ordinance outlaws tying an animal up except in circumstances like a park gathering or emergency. It also requires outdoor pet owners to provide an appropriately-sized, leak-proof, insulated structure with a roof and floor, including bedding when sufficiently cold out, and to microchip their animals.

Resident Gail Goodman said during public comment that the revised ordinance infringes on her rights, adding that chains work.

“My dogs are my property. I’m not a pet parent. I do not have fur babies,” she said.

A 2008 report from the New Mexico Department of Safety ordered by the state legislature notes that dogs that are regularly chained up can become “lonely, bored, anxious, and aggressive,” and that the practice can harm the animals’ health and safety.

Most opponents during public comment did not focus on the new amendments, but instead cited a new fee schedule that was already approved by the board last month.

Animal Control Director Jess Weston told the board that the higher fees will enable the department to conduct outreach and enforce the new policy along with the Valencia County Sheriff's Office.

Enforcement is expected to begin at the end of the year. A group of animal rights organizations, Animal Protection New Mexico and NMDOG, along with individual donors, have established a $7,000 fund to support residents with low incomes comply with the new rules.

State Sen. Brenda McKenna told the board she plans to introduce a similar statewide measure in the 2023 legislative session.