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Controversy over animal control efforts addressed

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City Manager Joe Neeb addressed communications regarding the seven-day rule, a provision in city code for animal holding, over the last couple of weeks between animal rescues, Roswell Animal Services and the city of Roswell. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Rescue groups still concerned about ‘seven-day rule’

City of Roswell officials on Thursday addressed controversy that arose recently over Roswell Animal Services’ (RAS) efforts to enforce the seven-day rule at the animal shelter.

City Manager Joe Neeb made an informational presentation with updates at the beginning of the full city council meeting. Neeb clarified that the city was neither changing the current animal control ordinance, nor had the city violated any laws by, in the past, allowing animal rescue groups up to 21 days to rescue animals.

He said there had been miscommunication that 21 days was the length of time animals are held, when it was actually seven as written in the code.

The “seven-day rule” refers to a seven-day period explained in the unclaimed animal section of the city code: days one to four are for owners to reclaim their animals; days five through seven, the dog is up for adoption by the public; and from day one through seven, rescue groups can tag an animal for potential rescue, with an option to request a two-day extension contingent on space at the shelter.

Neeb said in 2016 an amendment to the animal control ordinance was approved by the council, allowing the city manager or a designee to retain any animal at the city shelter for up to 21 days before the animal faced euthanasia.

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After a Jan. 18 Public Safety Committee meeting during which the seven-day rule was discussed, rescues working with RAS posted online various opinions on the city’s statements, including, in one case, a video about a dog that was euthanized after 19 days.

The major local rescues identified are From Forgotten To Forever Rescue and Transport (FFTF), a Colorado-based group, and Friends of Roswell Animals (FORA). Neeb said these rescues are the primary ones rescuing animals in Roswell, though the city has 77 other rescues on file. He compared the rescues to “brokers,” who send out calls for fosters and adopters nationwide.

Two citizens, Joe McNamara and Anna Edwards, signed up to formally address the council.

City’s presentation 

The presentation was informational — the council did not formally vote. Councilors Savino Sanchez, Juan Oropesa and Jeanine Corn Best elected to speak on the matter after the presentation and public participation. Sanchez and Best said they had received emails and/or calls from residents, rescues and others over the last month.

Neeb said the city’s goal is to help the rescues and the priority remains for every animal to get out of the shelter quickly. He said efforts to achieve this are still in progress.

Neeb also spoke about communications with rescue groups pulling animals from the facility. He said the city’s animal services have been trying to “do their jobs better,” while still having room for improvement.

Neeb said the city and rescues have faced challenges regarding communication, and time constraints when it comes to the city’s holding and collecting of stray animals. The rescues and city officials met on Monday evening to discuss the seven-day rule and other matters.

Megen Telles, kennel manager at Roswell Animal Services, presented informational items including improvements implemented at the Animal Control facility. (Alison Penn Photo)

Kennel Manager Megen Telles reviewed the ordinance. Telles said the city has adopted higher standards since she came on board and has established an informational Facebook page and hosted adoption events.

Saying the matter was not about “dollars and cents,” Neeb said the city wants animals in the facility to eventually be under the care of responsible pet owners. Neeb said the rescues expect the same from potential adopters.

Sanchez asked what sparked the issue between the city and the rescues. Need explained that a dog was euthanized at 19 days, without being tagged by a shelter. A video was made and posted online about a dog named Starsky and his “brother” Hutch. Starsky was euthanized, while Hutch was able to find an adoptive home.

Neeb said the city was unaware of the rescues’ interest and the dog was delivered back to the county, where it was originally impounded. He explained the city provides animal control services “county-wide” and recently RAS has been returning animals to the county’s jurisdiction. Neeb said the county informed the city that the dog had been euthanized.

In terms of the outcry on social media, Best said the posts “made her mad” and that “trashing” of the city was uncalled for. Instead of turning to social media, Best asked for people with issues to communicate with the city.

Assessing the audience of roughly 30 people, excluding city staff, Best said they seemed “calm and understanding” — though she singled out one woman, asking her to speak if she was not satisfied with the discussion. The woman responded that Best would receive an email.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh said 2,347 dogs were taken in by RAS in 2018 and 212 were euthanized. He said was “impressed with the number.”

Sammye Leflar, president and founder of FORA, said after the meeting that the reason for the low number Kintigh provided was that rescues had been given 21 days, and “it makes a huge difference.”

Rescues 

FFTF board member Carla Herman was the spokesperson for the rescue, which has worked with the city for five years. Herman said the rescued animals are transported to homes in Colorado, Utah and even as far as Wyoming.

Herman said FFTF also rescues and transports animals in Clovis and Portales, and parts of west Texas.

In a phone interview, Herman confirmed an email was collaboratively written by the rescue to address their position on the seven-day rule and sent to the city after the Public Safety Committee meeting last month. Herman said FFTF volunteers know the ordinance hasn’t changed, but they were concerned about how the city was executing the ordinance.

“We know that they are safe for seven days, but the ordinance can give up to 21 days and that’s what they’ve been doing as long as there was space,” Herman said. “We do keep track of the space and urgency. We just want to make sure that the animals’ welfare is being looked after and we don’t want to go backwards and we want to continue to help the animals …”

Leflar said the city extending the “courtesy” of the 21 days to the rescues “helps greatly, tremendously” to select the animals and find homes for them. After the council meeting, Leflar said it was communicated to the rescues on Monday that animals would be “safe through the 11th day,” without a clear answer on what would happen after that timeframe.

“I do really want to stress that everybody — rescues and all of the employees down there — we all had this where it worked …” Leflar said. “We were clicking, we were getting along, everything was great. We love Megen (Telles, kennel manager). We absolutely adore her. She’s the best thing that’s happened down there in a very long time because she gives us a lot of information about the animals, which is very important to be able to give rescues information about an animal before they pull it …”

Representatives of the rescues said they are not trying to be controversial, but want to present facts. In terms of changes to enforce the seven day rule as provided in city code, both rescues said they weren’t informed prior and would want to be asked for input in the future.

In separate interviews, Herman and Leflar expressed that they want citizens and others to understand that rescuing is a lengthy, active process where timing is everything for the animals.

Tagging animals 

Both stated that seven days was not enough time and clarified that tagging an animal means there is a commitment of a foster, which they take seriously.

At the council meeting, Oropesa asked for the rescues’ tagging process to be explained for the “sake of the public.” Neeb said the city has 70 enclosures with assigned numbers and rescues place tags on a board with the number of the enclosure to show interest in an animal.

Leflar said it was unrealistic to expect rescues to tag over 70 animals at once in the time constraint of eight days.

Leflar said, “We’re just asking for what works and that time from that eighth day to that 21st day is really critical. We want to work with the city of Roswell. We actually want people to know that Roswell is a great place to be a dog. We want Roswell to have a great reputation. We want the city of Roswell to care about the animals down there. And if, the rescues are able to find them good adoptable homes — then we want everybody to know that they care.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited online to clarify that the rescue group From Forgotten to Forever rescues and transports animals from Clovis, Portales and parts of west Texas.