'Just a Little Justice, Please?'
Many have asked us about our Inspection of Public Records case against Dona Ana County. Although attorney Peter Goodman, who represents Animal Village in the case, has asked us not to say much about it, we can report that our hearing Thursday in Judge Mary Rosner's courtroom, District Court 3, Las Cruces, seemed to go very well.
The purpose of the hearing was to petition the court for a writ of mandamus regarding two puppy mills in Dona Ana County. The first puppy mill rescue, involving a Chihuahua/Pomeranian breeder, was effected by Animal Village NM in August of 2015. We were then asked for help in October 2015, in rescuing or obtaining investigatory assistance from Dona Ana County, when approximately 50 Old English Bulldogs, pit bulls, and a neglected parrot had been abandoned, according to one of the admitted breeders at a puppy mill on Starfly Lane, in Las Cruces.
Attorney Peter Goodman described to the court the three IPRA requests made to the county, and the inordinate efforts required of Animal Village (New Mexico's largest no-kill animal shelter) to inspect what should be public documents. On top of the huge costs for the care of these victims, many of whom had suffered obvious neglect and abuse, was the cost and additional suffering to the dogs by not having the information being denied by Dona Ana County.
When questioned on the stand by Mr. Goodman, I was asked about the efficacy of the requested documents, and I explained how accurate information is used for quality care of rescued (and personally owned ) pets. I presented the scenario of a treating veterinarian, that it is terribly difficult to provide adequate veterinary care to a dog whose age can only be gauged by green, wobbly teeth. This is more difficult when you also know that the dog being diagnosed has been eating feces for years. Practically speaking, we have dogs from these puppy mills whose ages could be three years, or thirteen years. How can a veterinarian accurately determine appropriate care as to anesthesia, or surgical procedures- without any history of the dogs- many of whom who were part of licensed breeding operations for years? You'd have to ask yourself, as a treating veterinarian, "Am I operating on a five-year old dog, or a ten-year old dog? Are his or her teeth green and decayed because of age, congenital defects, and lack of veterinary care, or because of the diet which included feces for years?"
This question seemed also to be pondered by Judge Mary Rosner yesterday, when she heard our petition to cause Dona Ana County to give us the documentation we asked for November 1, 2015. Judge Rosner directed Dona Ana County trial lawyer Raul Carrillo and County Attorney Nelson J. Goodin to ensure that the County turned over all documents regarding both puppy mills, be turned over within 30 days to Animal Village NM. She also asked that Animal Village NM's attorney, Peter Goodman, give the court a list of all document types that still have not been produced by Dona Ana County. Attorney Carrillo asked Judge Rosner for the authority for supbeonas to require other agencies to provide documentation such as 911 calls. He was given such authority by Judge Rosner.
Furthermore, Judge Rosner made it very clear that she will not tolerate animal cruelty laws being broken in Dona Ana County, and that she was very upset thinking that anyone is currently being abused at either address. Attorney Carrillo told the court that according to his information, the person in charge of any dogs now at Ruby Road (Pomeranian Chihuahua puppy mill breeder) had not been the abuser. He said that the abusive person was no longer here in the area.
With the permission of Judge Rosner, I was able to correct that information. I explained to Judge Rosner that according to the very reports given to us by the county through the Open Government Act, officers clearly reported that the alleged abuser/breeder was in fact still at the property. Also according to the reports, she had again been granted by Dona Ana County the privilege of having dogs. Also according to those reports, I explained that she had been allowed to have more dogs than most people. In fact, officers' reports indicated she was allowed to keep ten to twelve dogs. After the rescue, and with many who lost their lives, when she had them euthanized. Many were in horrific condition. Few had medical attention that had been desperately needed, or even basic care. All rescued were covered in fleas and mites. Some had nails grown into pads that spurted blood when groomed.
I further explained to the court that according to those reports, the dogs in question had been hidden by the alleged abuser/puppy mill operator during the rescue by Animal Village NM. Not only had Animal Village NM given this information to the county at the time, and not only had this information been given to the county by neighbors, but the alleged abuser had also given that information to the county herself. I challenged the information given the court by DAC attorney Carrillo as to fact, and explained to Judge Rosner that the 93-year old bedridden invalid now removed from the property was not in fact the abuser. This woman could not even pull up her bed sheets, when she thought she was freezing in extremely hot weather. Judge Rosner gave a new instruction to officers of the court Carrillo and Goodin. They were charged to investigate as to the condition of the dogs, and I was asked if I would accept the dogs if the court deemed they should be removed. I answered that I would do so, absolutely. Mr. Carrillo and Mr. Goodin promised that measures would be taken to assess the situation.
In other counties, IPRA is treated differently by authorities. "We usually get our IPRA requests handled in three days, because we take them very seriously. It might take us a couple of weeks if they're very complicated," explained Benny House, Otero County Sheriff, when he was interviewed recently on KRSY AM 1230's, "Otero Then & Now."
Also interviewed about yesterday's hearing this morning was New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Director, Susan Boe. Ms. Boe was a guest on 'The Low Down,' which airs live Friday mornings on Alamo Talk Radio, KRSY AM 1230. Susan Boe explained that it benefits all of New Mexico when citizens use the Open Government Act, and how important a transparent government is to a well-run state. Examples were given of a current case, wherein the Attorney General of New Mexico is being refused requested documentation in a criminal case. Susan Boe explained the steps to be taken by any business, individual, or organization to make an IPRA request, Inspection of Public Records Act.
N.M.F.O.G. director Boe described a situation in Hungary, when she and other travelers looked forward to a tour of government buildings, but were denied entrance because meetings were in session. This example was given as to democracy in name only, as opposed to democracy in action.
Why Dona Ana County refuses to turn over information about the breeding operations in both of these decrepit trailers, which authorities in Dona Ana County saw fit to license, remains puzzling. Why tax payers' dollars are being used to fight these IPRA requests are even more of a concern.
What is not in question for most New Mexicans is the fact that there are many challenges in our state, that affect and reflect the quality of life people and businesses look for when the make a change. What is not in question for most is that New Mexico holds title to a host of "Nefarious Number Ones." Those include but are not limited to being credited with the highest unemployment, worst child care, one of the highest poverty rates, one of the worst education systems, worst state-management, highest burglary rates, second highest rape stats, and few debate literacy rates being a constant source of embarrassment for "The Land of Enchantment."
All that being rehashed, it seems it would have been a better decision (and better use of taxpayers' already thin dollars) for Dona Ana County, plagued recently with multi-million dollar lawsuits against DAC agencies and employees- to have turned over the information about dogs immediately and completely.
Exceptions to the Open Government Act are few. And as no one from Dona Ana County is yet making the assertion that these Chihuahuas, Bulldogs and Pomeranians are terrorists, security risks, or confidential informants- the question remains, "Why is this in court?" Why is New Mexico's largest no-kill, non-profit animal shelter being put to months of arduous expense and effort, to do our job in caring for and adopting these pets with adequate information?
With yesterday's ruling in Judge Rosner's court, we have hope at last, that there is an intelligent end in sight. And maybe, with the help of the judicial process, when all the information is in hand, we can use these apparent 'chronologies of dysfunction' to reduce the suffering of the breeding victims in New Mexico's puppy mills.
Sunny Aris, Director, AVNM