City of Albuquerque violates dangerous dog law in case involving employee

Family's Chihuahua killed by Animal Welfare employee's dog

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When a dog kills someone else’s pet, Albuquerque’s law states the city must take custody of the dangerous dog.

Read Animal Welfare’s Dog Report »

However, KRQE News 13 uncovered a recent case where the city ignored its own rules after an Animal Welfare employee’s own dog killed a neighbor’s Chihuahua.

“We heard a Chihuahua screaming,” recalled Nial Tack, the neighbor who witnessed the attack.

February 19th, Tack rushed outside his home when he heard the commotion.

“The neighbor’s in the immediate back, their dog had jumped the fence and was mauling these poor people’s Chihuahua,” Tack told KRQE News 13.

Tack said he climbed over the wall and found his neighbor’s dog, ‘Bootsy,’ the Chihuahua was dead, killed in her own backyard.

“It just a slobbery mess I mean, take a tennis ball of a dog that’s what it looked like,” said Tack.

Neighbors said they witnessed ‘Aurora,’ an Australian Shepherd mix from the home behind, jump the cinderblock wall between the two yards and go on the attack.

“He got Bootsy and just tore her up like a rag doll,” said Louie Garcia, one of Bootsy’s owners.

‘Bootsy’ the Chihuahua, who was killed in her own backyard.

“I was devastated,” His wife, Loretta Garcia, told KRQE News 13.

Loretta and Louie Garcia said their four-year-old Chihuahua was just feet away from making it inside her doggy door when she was killed.

“You know she was trying to get to her door,” said Loretta, pointing to the doggy door, which was a few feet away from where Bootsy was lying.

But when Animal Welfare responded to the call, the dangerous dog case wasn’t handled by the book.

“This has been a learning experience for everybody who’s been involved,” explained Corporal Kathryn Waite, with the city of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department.

According to Animal Welfare, the Chihuahua’s killer is owned by Ray Marquez, who happens to work for Animal Welfare as a vet assistant.

The day after his neighbor’s dog was killed, Marquez took his dog to the city shelter as an “owner surrender” at the instruction of an Animal Welfare officer.

But in direct violation of ‘Angel’s Law,’ the city’s own dangerous dog ordinance, Marquez was allowed to take Aurora home just a week later; a huge shock to Bootsy’s owners.

“I didn’t know the dog was home until the dog came to my back door and started growling and barking at me,” Louie recalled.

The Garcia’s were afraid to go into their own backyard, worried what may happen to their elderly Chihuahua, or worse, their infant grandson.

“He could just come over the fence at any time,” said Loretta, referring to the dog who killed Bootsy.

Angel’s Law states, “If the Department determines that a dog has mortally wounded a person or companion animal without provocation, the Department shall immediately seek to obtain a warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction to seize the dog or seize the dog with the consent of the owner.”

The law continues, “Such dog shall remain in the custody of the Department pending adjudication,” which in this case is an April 10th hearing.

The problem – not only did the city let the dangerous dog go home, the dog stayed home for weeks.

‘Aurora,’ the dog Animal Welfare says killed Bootsy.

KRQE News 13 asked Corporal Waite why a warrant wasn’t obtained sooner.

“They were working on the warrant. They had actually set up a trap in the neighbor’s property to try to catch the dog, but they were at the same time trying to get that warrant together.”

Case records show an Animal Welfare officer set up a trap in the Garcias’ yard on March 20th, only after the dog jumped the wall a second time.

According to the case report, a field officer continued checking the trap through March 26th, telling the Garcias that the case would be handed off to a corporal to obtain the warrant and remove the dog.

Despite Animal Welfare’s promises to get a warrant and take custody of Aurora, records show the dangerous dog was home for more than a month. The dog only re-appeared at the city shelter March 28th, the day after KRQE News 13 called about the case.

“I just have to ask if that had anything to do with our phone call on Monday?” KRQE News 13’s Gabrielle Burkhart asked Corporal Waite if her media inquiry had anything to do with Aurora being back in city custody.

“No, we were in the process of that warrant and talked to him,” Corporal Waite responded.

But an email later obtained by KRQE News 13 between Corporal Waite and Animal Welfare’s Director, Paul Caster, shows otherwise.

In the email, Waite tells her boss on March 28th, “I will reach out to the owner and see if can place the dog under protective custody. No need for the media to get involved at this point.”

Caster responded, “Sadly, the media IS involved. Attached is what I’m suggesting to Rhiannon we tell the reporter.”

KRQE News 13 heard back from Animal Welfare about the case the following day on March 29th, the day after Aurora went back into city custody.

Meanwhile, the Garcias’ concern was safety.

“We’re pretty much prisoners in our own home because of a dog that just jumps the fence,” Loretta explained.

They want to know who from Animal Welfare let this happen.

“Didn’t someone have to sign off when he reclaimed the dog?” KRQE News 13 asked Corporal Waite.

“Yes,” Waite responded. “But then again that’s when I said there must have been some miscommunication because the kennel staff was unaware this dog was going through – or you know, deemed dangerous.”

“There was no note put in there under the animal ID when the dog was brought in that, you know, we need to hold this dog,” Waite added.

However, memos obtained by KRQE News 13 prove at least some Animal Welfare staff knew about this case.

On February 20th, the day Marquez owner surrendered, a city veterinarian wrote “Please contact {her} before euthanizing. This pet belonged to an AWD employee and was successfully in a house with children, dogs and cats.”

Days later, the same vet wrote, “Unadoptable due to killing neighbor’s dog. Owner is employee. Dr. would like chance to discuss options with surrendering party.”

Then, on February 27th, the same day Marquez reclaimed Aurora, another Doctor wrote, “Received message from Ray Marquez that they would be pursuing reclaim if allowed. Placing hold for owner.”

“It seems like everyone knows he’s going to come pick up the dog,” KRQE News 13’s Gabrielle Burkhart said to Corporal Waite.

“Yeah, well you have to understand we as officers didn’t find that out until later on,” Waite responded. “And they should have probably consulted with us.”

Even though all employees have access to those memos in Aurora’s case, Animal Welfare told KRQE News 13 no one communicated with the case field officer before sending the dog home.

“There’s something wrong,” Loretta said. “This can’t be happening.”

The case report also states Marquez told the field officer all four of his dogs in his home were current with city licenses and rabies vaccinations. The Animal Welfare officer later found none of the animals were current on rabies or city licenses and cited Marquez for failing to do so.

When asked about the employee’s apparent lie, Waite responded, “Maybe he was nervous and didn’t know, you know? He was probably scared too, you know he’s an employee.”

But the Garcias think they know what’s behind it all.

“Somebody’s taking care of him over there,” Louie said. “His higher-ups are the ones that helped him get his dog back and I think that’s wrong.”

“That just made me feel like we have no rights,” Loretta added.

When asked if Marquez received any special treatment in his dangerous dog case, Waite responded, “I don’t think so. You know, what I’m gonna say is this has been a whole learning experience.”

“We all make mistakes and this is just one good example of making sure all the departments work as a team, and for vet staff to consult with the field staff when it comes to these type of situations, and the kennel staff as well,” said Waite.

KRQE News 13 tried talking to Marquez himself at his Taylor Ranch home. A woman turned us away at the door.

The Garcias said they believe Marquez received special treatment, pointing to notes that show his own vet staff got involved and the fact that Marquez received his dog back without them being notified.

“It was a dangerous dog,” Louie said.

“We were under the impression that that dog was surrendered and we thought everything was okay,” Loretta added.

Aurora is now in protective custody with the city.

The Garcias don’t have the hope of getting their dog back. But, they’d like assurance that the law put in place to protect them in cases like this, will be enforced.

A hearing officer will determine next week if the city should take permanent custody of the dog. If Aurora does become the property of the city, she could not be adopted out.