N.M. Livestock Board

The New Mexico Livestock Board

Number, Severity of Animal
Cruelty Cases On the Rise

Animal welfare cases are a growing part of the job for the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB), which has jurisdiction over cases involving livestock, and the majority of these cases involve horses.

Since July 1, inspectors Tim Allison, Barry Allen and John Eisenberger, along with investigators George Mendoza and Gene Cessun have investigated 26 animal cruelty cases in Area 1, which includes Chaves, Eddy, Lea, Roosevelt and Curry County, according to Area Supervisor Shawn Davis. Charges have been filed in seven of those cases, and six are still being monitored by inspectors. This year, Davis said, his inspectors are on track to do about 30 more cases than last year, and the severity of the cases is getting worse.

In the southwestern part of the state, Inspector Buddy Eby currently has cases pending in Grant County, and Janice Blandford is working with the Luna County Sheriff’s Department on two cases there. Animal cruelty cases are also pending in Otero County said area supervisor Troy Patterson. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of court cases, we pursue. It’s a growing problem, and seems to be a combination of things all coming together at once – the market is not what it used to be, the economic downturn, higher hay prices – it’s kind of a perfect storm.”

The charges that can be filed against an owner for animal cruelty range from misdemeanor to felony charges, depending on the specifics and severity of the case. If an animal dies, felony extreme cruelty charges can be filed. The NMLB has a good working relationship with district attorneys and judges in Area 1, and lately has had a 100 percent conviction rate when charges are filed.

Three quarters of complaints come from the public, while others come from horse rescues, animal protection groups, and inspectors in the course of their daily work. Inspectors respond to every complaint, and take them all seriously, anonymous or not.

When an inspector responds to an animal cruelty call, they first rate each animal’s body condition from one to ten, with one being very skinny and ten being obese. Inspectors are required to take some type of action if a horse’s body condition is rated a three or below. Often, if a horse is emaciated, but not so severely that the inspector believes its life is in danger, the inspector will try to work with the owner on feeding and veterinary care, giving him a chance to rectify the situation.

In those cases, Davis explained, the inspector will monitor the situation from 30 to 90 days, checking on the animal two to three times a week, and if they see improvement will release the restrictions on the owner. However, if the owner does not satisfy the inspector, the animals are impounded and charges are filed. “We like to start out by giving people a chance, most people in these cases are having some kind of trouble,” he said.

In cases where the horses’ condition is severe or a horse is dead, inspectors will file for a seizure warrant, impound the animals and get the survivors veterinary care, and collect evidence for prosecution. In some cases, people will surrender the animals to the agency, saying that they just can’t care for them anymore, he noted.

As animal cruelty cases increase, so does the cost. Inspectors spend a good deal of time on paperwork, investigation, court and follow-up, which takes them away from other duties. Veterinary care, feed and board for impounded horses also quickly adds up and is often between $200 and $500 per horse. “According to state law, if convicted, a defendant is liable for the costs of his horse’s care. We have a good conviction rate, but have yet to get repayment on any of these cases,” Davis said.

Inspectors in Area 1 have started an outreach program designed to try and alleviate the number of cases. On Saturday mornings, they visit homes in problem areas, and conduct “Knock and Talks,” talking to horse owners about feeding programs and veterinary care.

In addition, Davis said, the NMLB has stepped up training programs statewide. He has developed an eight-hour training course for inspectors focused on seizures, disposition, and cruelty trends. “All inspectors are required to take the course, to make sure we’re not only all on the same page, but also heading in the same direction statewide.”

And, inspectors never know when a routine call or traffic stop is going to turn into something much bigger. Northeastern New Mexico inspector April Riggs was called to the port of entry on the New Mexico/Colorado border when a livestock truck was detained for problems with his logbooks. The driver was hauling slaughter horses from South Dakota to Los Lunas, for export to Mexico, and said he thought he had a horse or two down. After unloading the truck and finding several dead horses and others in bad shape, Riggs detained the driver and load to allow the horses time for veterinary care, feed and water, and contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of the nature of the shipment, authority fell under the USDA. Riggs is also pursuing nine counts of animal cruelty against the driver. Since then, Riggs has stopped and detained several similar loads, although not to that extreme, to ensure the horses’ health and safety.

Earlier this year, an inspector near Portales pulled over a man hauling horses. The driver had no ownership papers for the horses, and was very vague about where he was going or coming from. By state law, if horses don’t have papers, the inspector assumes they are stolen, so the horses were seized. The driver never returned to claim his horses, which is not common. A few weeks later, inspectors Allison and Allen made a similar stop, with a driver with a similar story, but this time the NMLB called in Drug Task Force Five, which found 1,750 pounds of marijuana in a hidden compartment in the trailer. The NMLB is now working with other law enforcement agencies to train and prepare inspectors for this type of situation, both to increase law enforcement success and for the inspectors’ own safety.

The U.S. Border Patrol recently contacted the NMLB about a man who was stopped on horseback near Columbus leading another horse, trying to cross the border into Mexico. No agency trailer was available, so Blandford took her personal truck and trailer to Columbus to impound the horses. Because one of the horses was in such bad condition, the man was charged with animal cruelty as well as an export felony for trying to take horses into Mexico with no inspection.