Finding Solutions to Challenge Animal Cruelty

Lisa Jennings
Valencia County News-Bulletin
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gail Goodman’s recent opinion piece was many things, though not factual.

Her piece appeals to the worst elements of human behavior by calling on people to excuse cruelty and callousness, by stereotyping low-income people as those who commit reckless cruelty, and by demonizing those who are working to make New Mexico’s communities better places to live for all. Notably, while she is obviously aware of and describes in detail the many problems facing animals in her community, she fails to mention even one thing she is doing to help address these community-wide animal cruelty problems.

On the other hand, Animal Protection of New Mexico, a 32-year old, statewide nonprofit organization, is also aware of the many horrors that animals face every day in our state. Yet, instead of blaming others for problems, we are known for rolling up our sleeves, examining the root causes of issues and offering humane and workable solutions to communities.

There are significant challenges that lie between today’s reality and a brighter future for the animals who depend on people for virtually every aspect of their wellbeing.

To be sure, APNM and Animal Protection Voters work to see that strong laws are enacted and enforced
in New Mexico. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1963, “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.”

Most New Mexicans uphold improved animal protection laws passed in recent years, knowing they improve our communities and protect people and animals. After all, there is an incontrovertible link between animal cruelty and family violence, making crimes against animals a serious social welfare issue for our time.

But changing the laws is not the entire answer. For that reason, APNM has and will continue to provide program services that help people make kind and responsible choices so animals are given relief on the ground, where it matters. For example, APNM partnered to create a statewide Equine Protection Fund that provides tem- porary feed assistance for horses in families affected by an economic downturn, assistance for the costs of equine euthanasia and will soon host its first low-cost gelding clinic.

For years, APNM has been expanding its Companion Animal Rescue Effort network that offers temporary, emergency shelter to the animals of domestic violence victims who might otherwise be afraid to flee a violent home, for fear that their animals will be tortured or killed. In just six years, APNM has subsidized more than $80,000 worth of training to animal control officers across New Mexico, helping them obtain professional training essential to this important job, but which their communities often cannot afford.

Further, APNM is working with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to train therapists to effectively treat those who are cruel to animals, as punishment alone is not an effective remedy.

APNM’s website ( has available a comprehensive list of statewide resources for those who are experiencing problems with animal issues, and those without internet service can call our hotline (1-505- 265-2322, ext. 29) for help. APNM offers bilingual resources on caring for companion animals, information on positive animal training methods and underwrites lessons about kindness and compassion to thousands of children across New Mexico.

Specific to Valencia County, we are about to introduce and provide for free a four-week, educational unit on animal care/cost/ordinances for fifth graders.

Seventy percent of the 6,000 calls Valencia County Animal Control received in 2010 concerned animals in the program’s target area served by Los Lunas’s five east mesa schools.

The program meets the benchmarks and standards required by the Department of Public Education and the Los Lunas School District, and has been reviewed and endorsed by Valencia County Animal Control, Valencia County Code Enforcement, the Valencia County manager, Valencia County sheriff, Friends of the Valencia County Shelter and Quixote Humane.

Goodman’s implication that low-income people may not know or care enough to get their animals help is an inaccurate stereotype. People of all income levels understand and care deeply about their animals’ needs. In some circumstances the local animal shelter may be the best place for asick/injured dog or cat to be relieved of suffering via humane euthanasia.

We can celebrate that our state is full of creative, diligent and compassionate individuals who work at or volunteer their time at local compapion animal and equine shelters, who provide training and resources to ani- mal guardians and who foster animals to save lives and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Animal advocates continue to work to ensure there are consequences for acts that most New Mexicans would agree are egregious and reckless: things such as starving a dog to death on the end of a chain; cutting off a puppy’s ears with scissors; letting dogs be eaten alive by maggots; abandoning a mother dog and her puppies to die of starvation; and beating, neglecting and starving a horse to the point where her outgrown hooves force her to stand on gangrenous fetlocks, leading to muscle atrophy, constant pain and her death. All of these cases occurred in New Mexico.

These are willful acts that caused unimaginable suffering and which most people could not stand to witness.

Most people do care for their animals and go to lengths to treat them with respect and stewardship. But rare outliers commit unacceptable acts of cruelty and these cases cannot and should not be ignored.

New Mexicans are urged to support Sen. Richard Martinez’s Senate Bill 348 and Rep. Al Park’s House Bill 319 currently being considered in the 2011 legislative session to help protect animals from cruelty that should be earnestly confronted. These bills would also make the heinous crime of bestiality (raping an animal) a fourth degree felony.

It’s an easy out to demonize those like Animal Protection of New Mexico and others who tirelessly work across New Mexico to provide humane options for people and their animals. It may be very easy to apologize for those who care so little about another living creature’s suffering that they won’t spend even a little effort to ease an animals’ pain. But one thing is clear from the thousands of calls our hotline receives every year, the choice to be humane has virtually nothing to do with income level and everything to do with compassion and personal responsibility.

(Elisabeth Jennings is the executive director of Animal Protection of New Mexico and Animal Protection Voters.)