Lawsuit Alleges Animal Cruelty by Albuquerque Mayor and City Director of Animal Services

(Washington, D.C., January 28, 2014) The mayor of Albuquerque and the director of the city's animal welfare department have been named in a lawsuit alleging that the officials have committed animal cruelty by allowing certain illegal and improper animal management practices to occur related to abandonment of stray cats.

The lawsuit was filed with the state of New Mexico, county of Bernalillo, Second Judicial District Court by attorney A. Blair Dunn on behalf of Marcy Britton, a resident of Albuquerque.

The lawsuit alleges that the City of Albuquerque partnered with animal advocate groups to implement a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) program in which stray or feral cats are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and then abandoned at the location at which they were trapped. Britton's lawsuit claims that the abandonment constitutes cruelty to animals as defined specifically by Albuquerque ordinances and state law. The suit says that animal groups are paid by the city for their actions and that the abandonment of the animals takes place regardless of whether there is food or shelter available.

The lawsuit was filed based on provisions of the Albuquerque Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment (HEART) ordinance which provides that “Any person who relinquishes possession or control of an animal in a location where any reasonable person would know the animal has little chance of finding food, potable water, and shelter is guilty of cruelty.”  It says further that “any person, including employees of AACC (Albuquerque Animal Care Center), may be cited for cruelty … .”

Further, the State of New Mexico provides in its laws that cruelty to animals includes abandoning or failing to provide necessary sustenance to an animal under that person's custody or control.

The city has been embroiled in a cat management controversy for months. American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the leading U.S. bird conservation groups, sent a letter in September to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry asking that the city follow the advice offered in a letter by the state's Game and Fish Department and discontinue supporting a feral cat management program that the group describes as inhumane to cats and wildlife and a threat to the health of city residents.

“In addition to maintaining cats in an inhumane lifestyle, sacrificing local wildlife, and endangering the health and welfare of Albuquerque's citizens, TNR simply does not work," says the letter from Grant Sizemore, Cats Indoors Program Manager for ABC.

The heavily referenced ABC letter cites numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies that have concluded that TNR is not an effective method to help control the population of feral cats and may actually lead to an increase in the number of cats. Behavioral changes associated with spaying and neutering and the supplemental and sporadic feeding of feral cat colonies under TNR “management" has been shown to attract stray cats and lead to the increased abandonment of pets by irresponsible owners. One long-term study of TNR concluded that TNR alone was a waste of "money, time, and energy."

TNR also keeps cats on the streets where they lead traumatic lives. Feral cats have reduced life expectancies due to attacks by dogs and other feral cats, predation, being hit by cars, ingestion of poison, disease, and more. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also vigorously opposes TNR, taking the position that it is inhumane for the cats as well as the wildlife they hunt, injure, and/or kill.

ABC's letter says that TNR is also a death sentence for wildlife. Domestic cats are a non-native species in the United States and efficient, instinctive predators. Contrary to claims by TNR practitioners, the feeding of feral cat colonies does not eliminate the killing of wildlife by cats. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that even well-fed cats will hunt and kill. Research by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that cats are responsible for the deaths of 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals in the United States every year. Even the mere presence of cats in the environment has been shown to reduce bird reproductive output and survivorship.

Last, the letter points out that permitting feral cats to continue to roam outdoors through TNR is a threat to public health and safety. According to scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cats are consistently the number-one carrier of rabies among domestic animals and pose a "disproportionate risk for potential human exposure." Domestic cats are also the necessary host for the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis to complete its life cycle and may shed hundreds of millions of the infectious parasite in its feces. In people, toxoplasmosis has been linked to schizophrenia, Alzheimer's Disease, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and other neurodegenerative diseases, and can cause sudden abortion and fetal abnormalities in pregnant women. Furthermore, cats may also harbor the plague, which has been confirmed in 136 cats in New Mexico since 1998.

Although some "humane" organizations seek to maintain cats outdoors, numerous state agencies, professional societies, and nonprofit organizations understand that doing so is detrimental to cats, wildlife, and people. For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association's Committee on Environmental Issues has stated that "managed cat colonies do not solve the problems of cat overpopulation and suffering, wildlife predation, or zoonotic disease transmission."

Consequently, the committee "strongly supports and encourages humane elimination of feral cat colonies" and "opposes passage of local or state ordinances that legalize the maintenance of managed (i.e., TNR) cat colonies."

Based on the overwhelming evidence that invariably indicates the failure of TNR, Sizemore urged the City of Albuquerque to “follow the advice of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and to immediately and permanently discontinue the practice of TNR."

Sizemore also strongly encouraged the city to “enact laws that treat cats like dogs and to require the Animal Welfare Department to actively control the feral cat population, beginning with offering recourse to aggrieved residents by trapping cats. American Bird Conservancy stands ready to assist Albuquerque in its efforts to effectively and humanely remove roaming cats by providing a variety of educational resources." Most recently, ABC has produced four PSAs that encourage responsible treatment of pets and wildlife by keeping cats indoors.