It was standing room only in the Rio Rancho city council meeting Wednesday, Oct. 24. The council was expected to make a decision about a controversial change in the city's animal welfare ordinance. Over 50 people spoke to the council on why they should change or keep the ordinance.
In April 2011, the City of Rio Rancho adopted an animal welfare ordinance. The city put together a task force that worked for 18 months to come up with the current ordinance. Now, the city council members want to revise several areas of the ordinance that has animal lovers up in arms.
The two most controversial revisions would lift the ban to allow pet stores sell dogs and cats and permitting animal exhibitions that have USDA welfare violations to perform in Rio Rancho.
Boni Galarneau was a member of the task force and said how she was disappointed to see all the hard work of the task force go to waste.
"We didn't just work at our weekly meetings, we did work outside," Galarneau said. "We felt honored to be chosen, and we come up with this, and the city likes it, then you have four councilors who are trashing most of it."
Council member Tim Crum said he has received several calls and emails not just from constituents, but from people all over the country. He supports the repeal because he said the root of the problem doesn't lie with pet stores, but with others who are cruel to animals.
"When you have a ban on something that's a legitimate business, and the people that have participated in it, that's a violation of constitutional rights," Crum said. "Not only do I think its wrong to ban a legitimate business, but my office requires me to carry out my duties according to law."
Many citizens are concerned the pet stores will sell dogs that come from "puppy mills." According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), puppy mills are places where the female dogs will be constantly bred in bad conditions. These puppies come to pet stores through a middleman, called a broker, that usually sells the dogs to pet stores for large amounts of money. Diseases are also common in puppy-mill dogs.
Even though pet stores have a grace period until 2015 to stop selling dogs and cats, the city has already seen changes. Before the ordinance there were two pet stores in Rio Rancho selling dogs and cats; Critters Pet Store and Rio Rancho Pets.
Critters Pets has since closed its doors. Owner Crystal Miller said the reason the store went out of business was because of the ordinance. She said the ordinance made her go into bankruptcy and early retirement.
"It (the ordinance) said that I could not expand my business and I could not sell my business, so it made my business worthless — a business that I had spent 10 years building," Miller said.
Earlier this year, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was banned from performing at the Santa Ana Star Center because of the circus' USDA animal welfare violation. Brian Shaffer, president of the local stagehands union, spoke to the council about how unsetting it was for all the workers at the Santa Ana Star Center to be out of work, after they secured jobs during the circus.
"After speaking with them, I found that they were just as devastated about the show cancellation as we were," Shaffer said.
After nearly three hours of discussion from several people living in and outside of the city, the council finally decided to table the amendments until next month's meeting. The decision was made in order to review the proposed amendments and allow more public input.