Animal funds

Valencia County Commissioners Approve New Animal Ordinance; no connection

Train, not chain – that’s the message from Peralta resident Karen Kuehn now that dog chaining is banned in unincorporated areas of Valencia County.

While tethering is allowed at Peralta, Kuehn wants pet owners to know that there are ways to keep dogs confined to a property without chain or expensive fencing.

Kuehn found she had to get creative when she discovered that a dog – Lucky Boy – she rescued last year was able to do a short job on the 5ft horse fence around his property and explore the neighborhood.

It started with his desire to share lunch with a work team at the neighbor’s house.

“He can just fly over that fence,” Kuehn said.

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Even though his collar’s battery is dead, Lucky Boy knows he’s not allowed near the fence of Karen Kuehn’s Peralta farm. An avid believer in “training not shackling,” Kuehn installed an invisible fence to keep the dog on his property.

An animal trainer and on-set photographer on movie sets, Kuehn is often away from home for long hours, and knowing that Lucky might go out, end up injured, or injure someone’s livestock or chickens was extremely stressful, she said.

“I ended up tying him up briefly. It is my responsibility to keep it in my yard,” she said.

After doing some research, Kuehn decided to invest in an invisible fence system, which is connected to existing electrical sources on his property with two parallel lines forming a loop buried about 6 inches deep and four feet apart.

Kuehn had two sections of fence she needed to keep Lucky away which totaled about 1,100 feet, at a cost of about $1,300.

“I know it’s expensive, and it might not be an option for some people,” she said. “A smaller property would be cheaper. It really worked for me… It took him about a day to figure out where the limit was.

The system includes a collar that emits an audible sound and delivers a mild shock when the dog crosses buried lines. Kuehn took off Lucky’s necklace to show the noise but he remained silent. Even with a dead battery and nothing preventing him from crossing the invisible fence, Lucky remained a suitable distance from the property’s fence.

“It’s a question of responsibility,” she says. “If you really want an animal, you have to keep it safe.”

Dozens of county residents and animal welfare advocates, some from as far away as the city of Rio Rancho, filled the Valencia County Commission meeting room on March 2 to witness the changes made to the county animal control ordinance.

The most significant change to the county’s animal ordinance relates to animal restraint, which requires animals to be confined to an owner’s property, either in an enclosed enclosure with enough space for the animal can move freely, either with a fence or a wall of sufficient height surrounding the perimeter of the property.

Tethering as a means of permanent or long-term confinement is no longer permitted in unincorporated parts of Valencia County. Each of the county’s five municipalities has its own animal tethering and chaining laws, which may differ from the county ordinance.

Animals may be leashed or tethered for short periods, for example when in open public spaces, such as parks, in an emergency, and only when the owner is immediately present.

The changes to the ordinance were approved by the county commission by a vote of 4 to 1.

While the majority of those who addressed the commission supported the anti-tethering part of the order, some did not, fearing the order could not be enforced.

“For about a year now we’ve had a terrible problem with stray dogs,” said Elaine Nance, a Meadow Lake resident of 17 years. “Nothing has been said about how this will be enforced. I was told that three (animal control officers) were trying to cover the whole county… As for tying up the dogs, I have no problem with that, and some should be because otherwise they go wild and some are pretty vicious.

Two nonprofits, New Mexico Dog and Animal Protection of New Mexico, have pledged funds to help residents pay for the enclosures. At the March 2 meeting, Angela Stell, founder of New Mexico Dog, said the two organizations raised about $11,000 to help cover the costs of fencing in the county. Donations are taken as part of the #UNchain Valencia County Dogs campaign on GoFundMe.

A resident of Jarales for 44 years, Jennifer Carrejo said it really comes down to the individual responsibility of who owns the animal.

“We have to hold people accountable,” Carrejo said. “I don’t believe in chains. If you want a pet, keep it in a fenced yard.

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In front of a standing crowd, Shannon and Jeff Kmatz advocate an end to dog chaining, saying incredibly heavy chains were often used to tie dogs up, causing physical and mental suffering for the animals.

Six-year Tomé resident Sheena Zemke called the changes to the ordinance a watershed moment in Valencia County, saying she saw year-old puppies chained up and then left there.

“They are never extinguished. They are forced to live and die on this 6ft chain,” Zemke said.

Valencia County Animal Control Director Jess Weston noted that most of the opposition to the ordinance was based on the fee increase approved by the commission last month. The charges are separate from the order, in a resolution, which can be reviewed by the commission at any time.

“The main concern I hear from them is the fees, not the chaining. My kids like to race dirt bikes and play volleyball and it costs money. I spend money to do things with my kids. That’s the price of doing what I want to do,” Weston said. “There’s a cost to doing what you love to do, whether it’s biking all- land or own animals.”

Increasing punitive fees for off-leash dogs and other offenses will give the ordinance the “teeth” it needs for offenders to take offenses seriously.

“When we stand in front of the judge and our officers pursue a case, the judge asks what the charges are. We say $10 or $15,” Weston said. “The judge hands them the charges and (the offenders) laugh and walk out. If we don’t have teeth, we will never be able to solve the problem.

The recognition of the new ordinance was a huge change for Valencia County,
Weston said that’s why he was there.

“I’ve been doing this since 1998. I’ve been doing this all my life,” he said. “We must do what is right for the animals in Valencia County. We have to set the bar. Why not be in front of something? Why be the last?

Weston said there would be a grace period for enforcement of the order, during which the department would conduct education, outreach and provide resources to the community.

“We want compliance, so that’s probably what we’ll do for the rest of this year – focus on education and awareness,” he said. “We pass houses with a nice fence and they leave the gate open. It costs nothing to close it. Is there a hole in the fence? Let’s fix it and free your dog from a chain.

Commissioners Joseph Bizzell, David Hyder, Gerard Saiz and Jhonathan Aragon voted yes, and Troy Richardson voted no, saying he would have liked to see something different.

The changes to the order will come into effect on April 2.

Valencia County Animal Control Ordinance (2022)

Valencia County Animal Control Ordinance (2022)