Metro court to launch ‘animal court’ pilot

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Albuquerque Metro Court is looking at a new specialty court to better handle animal abuse cases and their offenders. Supporters of the program say it will not only better protect animals but it will also make the community safer.

Organizers tell KRQE News 13 the court will look similar to other specialty courts, like DWI Court and Drug Court. They said one major advantage is the incentive accused animal abusers will have to change their behavior.

It was the only home Gem knew. When Albuquerque Animal Welfare officers finally found her, she was emaciated, so weak Gem could barely walk.

Most of the photos are too graphic to show you, but these are the sorts of cases officers see every day.

“When we’re out there and we see these things first hand, we obviously know it’s serious,” said Albuquerque Animal Welfare Captain Christopher Romero.

Gem’s owners only received probation and community service for the neglect. Yet, it’s just one of many cases where officers said offenders are getting off easy.

“It’s frustrating because we just don’t feel that we’re taken serious,” said Romero.

Both Romero and Acting Animal Welfare Director Paul Caster agree punishment does little to change behavior.

“Yes, you did bad, you pay the fine and maybe you’ll do a little jail time if it’s serious enough but nothing else happens to you,” Caster said.

It’s why they’re proponents of a new specialty court offering rehabilitation, instead.

“Our goal is to intervene in that cycle of violence and engage these people in counseling and, hopefully, return them to the community safer individuals,” said attorney Laura Castille.

Castille has been working to establish an animal court for two years now. It started as a research project in law school. Castille says her findings revealed animal abuse charges are often dropped. What’s more, she said many of these alleged abusers are repeat offenders and they’re not just targeting animals.

“The research shows people who abuse animals continue to abuse animals, move on to abuse people in addition to animals,” Castille explained.

Here’s how the court will work:

All animal abuse cases would be sent to one judge after arraignment. Alleged offenders would then be encouraged to give up their pet and sign up for counseling. Once they complete the program, the case could be dismissed.

While Romero and Caster say their primary concern is for pets like Gem, they said animal court is a win for everyone.

“This is something that can make the community a safer place,” said Romero.

This is not the first time New Mexico has tried to launch an animal court. According to Animal Welfare, the legislature proposed an animal abuse court in 2013 but it didn’t get far. They said their main concern was funding.

Metro Court officials said this pilot program is set to kick off in February and run for six months. They said they want to ensure there are, in fact, enough cases to warrant a specialty court for animal abuse.

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