LAS VEGAS, NM – Twice dogs have killed cats that Jane Lumsden cares for and who live under her business.
The losses left Lumsden, the owner of Semilla Natural Foods, and other Las Vegas residents frustrated with the city’s failure to retain animal control officers to help prevent such attacks.
Over the past eight years, 19 agents have succeeded each other. Now the two city animal control officer positions and one supervisor position are vacant.
“Nobody wants to lose their pet in a brutal attack,” said Lumsden, whose 20-year-old cat was found dead three weeks ago.
“She was definitely killed by dogs,” Lumsden said. “She was very mutilated.
Marshall Poole, president of the Northeastern New Mexico Animal Welfare Coalition, also finds the situation frustrating. The city and county of San Miguel contracts with the nonprofit to operate the Las Vegas animal shelter.
“For the second time in less than a year, the city has no animal control officers and [is] fail to enforce ordinances on animals, including [dogs] run free and the requirement for rabies shots,” Poole said.
The Animal Welfare Coalition receives $129,677 a year from the city and $23,469 from the county to operate the 32-kennel shelter, which it has run since 2013. But that depends on animal control officers to enforce laws, including ensuring dogs are vaccinated against rabies, are licensed and are not chained or loose.
“We see horrible things,” Poole said. “The dogs are chained without food or water. Often, puppies chained for three years end up with chains embedded in the dog. There are always mistreated dogs.
The director of the coalition’s Pet Center, Tina Holguin, estimates that only 10% of dogs in the city have the required licenses, which are free.
City Manager Leo Maestas could not be reached to comment on the lack of animal control officers.
Mayor Louie Trujillo said Las Vegas police are processing animal complaints until positions are filled.
“This issue is important to me, and we continue to meet with the AWC to resolve issues,” Trujillo said.
Poole declined to comment on possible reasons why the city has seen such a turnover of animal control officers.
“All I know is that the animal control officers revolving door needs to be stopped,” he said. “It must be developed into a specialized department with certified and equipped agents. It is also a burden for the city.
Holguin believes the turnover is a combination of low salaries and a lack of professional development for officers. In 2020, the city increased the pay for the position to $14 per hour, from $10 to $11 per hour, she said. The supervisor earns $16 per hour.
Animal control officers are required to have a high school diploma or GED diploma and a driver’s license. New recruits are trained and certified to handle animals, Poole said.
“It is very difficult to have effective enforcement of animal orders without properly selected, trained and experienced animal control officers,” he added.
The Animal Welfare Coalition was formed in 2008 by residents who sought to address cruelty and neglect to cats and dogs in and around Las Vegas. Volunteers help with pet food, low-cost and free spaying and neutering services, and rescue, rehabilitate, and find forever homes for sick, injured, and forgotten pets.
The coalition provides free neutering and neutering to 500 animals a year and finds homes for 97% of its dogs, Poole said.
The coronavirus pandemic has created additional challenges for the organization.
“The average stay at animal shelters across the county has increased from 40 days in 2019 to 80 days in 2021,” Poole said. “Our ability to transport the overpopulation of local unwanted animals to transport partners is declining due to understaffing and increased intakes at shelters across the country.”