Rio Rancho assesses updates to dangerous dog ordinance

New Mexico

The city of Rio Rancho could be changing its dangerous dog ordinance out of concern that current rules don’t do enough to hold dog owners accountable or to protect people from dangerous dogs. 

“We came home to find them terribly mutilated by the pit bulls next door,” Christina Blea of Rio Rancho said.

She added it was more than a year ago that her family realized the neighbor’s dogs broke through their backyard fence and killed their two chihuahuas.

She said the city needs to adopt stricter dangerous dog laws.

“I don’t think we are yet where we need to be to protect the public, especially the young children and others who cannot protect themselves from vicious attacks,” Blea explained.

Wednesday night, the city council is considering repealing its dangerous dog ordinance.

“This is something that’s needed to be updated and cleaned up for some time,” Mayor Greg Hull said at a council study session in late February.

In a briefing memorandum, City Attorney Greg Lauer said it’s hard to enforce, but that a new law would clarify violations that animal control and police can incorporate in charging documents.

“To keep the animal safe and to keep the public safe from the animal,” Lauer said at the study session. “We make it, I think, a little bit more clear for animal control officers and for anyone who’s going to be subject to this new ordinance and to understand what the expectations are, what the process will be.”

Additionally, the police chief would be able to help move the investigation along quicker by declaring a dog as dangerous, potentially dangerous or vicious.

Under the current rules, an animal control officer has to petition municipal court to do that.

“This keeps the animal control officers from having to go to court each time they’re going to have to try to deal with an animal’s owner,” Lauer said at the study session.

The ordinance also prescribes penalties for owners who don’t follow handling rules, including up to $500 in fines and as much as 90 days in jail.

“Owners who fail to comply, violate repeatedly, or otherwise fail to keep innocents safe from their dogs will incur progressively more severe consequences,” a city representative wrote in an emailed statement. “This could mean fines or potentially jail time.”

The ordinance defines a dangerous dog as one that causes a bite injury to a person, pet or livestock.

If the city council approves the changes Wednesday night, the new ordinance would go into effect on July 1.

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