I grew up in Peralta long before any type of ordinance existed. Peralta was and still is a rural community.

If you had a dog, there was a very good chance your dog roamed free among the community — unregistered, unvaccinated, unleashed and unattended.

The age of animal control ordinance

Most people who own dogs don’t think their pet could or would ever hurt anyone, not even a fly. However, the truth is that dogs are animals and, as humans, we cannot fully understand their provocations.

Tracy Aragon
Peralta municipal judge

New Mexico statute gives local municipalities the authority to regulate its own animal control ordinances. Many ordinances will vary depending on the community and the rules the council choose. But all animal control ordinances have a common goal and are designed for the purpose of: Protecting animals from neglect and abuse; protecting residences from annoyance and injury; and encouraging responsible ownership of animals and pets.

Many people may be surprised to discover that a dog attack is actually classed as a property dispute, as dogs are considered personal property under the law. In a case of a vicious dog attack on humans, livestock or another dogs, what has happed legally is that one person’s property has damaged another’s.

Those who have their dogs or livestock attacked would most likely have to pursue their case as a civil property damage claim in their local magistrates or district court. In Peralta, the individual whose property is damaged or stalked can legally shoot the animal that is damaging, attacking or stalking his or her livestock on site.

If the courts declare your dog as dangerous, they will hold it until the court makes a final decision. What happens to the dog after that point will depend on if you are found guilty or not guilty. Let me emphasis that last statement — if you are found guilty.

The dog is not on trial. You, alone, are responsible for the fate of your pet. If you are found not guilty of the charges, the dog will be returned. If you are found guilty, penalties may include jail, fines, payment of court costs and any damages, and some ordinances will ban you from owning a dog for up to 10 years. An order may also be made to have your dog destroyed.

State and municipal laws differ but in Valencia County you are responsible for any damage your “property” causes and must shoulder the financial consequences.

What do you mean I’m property? You keep telling everyone I’m your baby.

A national survey of 1,500 U.S. dog owners conducted by Rover.com, reveals that not only are dogs our best friends, but 94 percent of pet parents consider their dogs to be family members. The relationship between pets and people has become much more personal.

I have this debate with dog owners on a regular basis — even with my wife. Dogs are not babies, dogs are property. However, signs of this property status of animals persist in the language we use to describe dogs in the eyes of the law.

This language both reflects and contributes to the legal reality of dogs as property, and this language and these laws are not limited to dogs — all animals are classified as property under the law.

There are some limited protections granted to animals despite their being regarded as property, but they aren’t that different to protections for other types of property. For example, in order to own a car, we have to register it, maintain it to some basic level to be entitled to own that property. Same goes for your dog. We are obligated to maintain this property in a manner that insures its protection and well-being.

There are some very basic things we are not allowed to do in terms of maintaining our property, or using our property in an unacceptable manner.

Educated pet owners

Do yourself and your pet a favor. Familiarize yourself with your local animal control ordinance. These can be found online or visit your local municipal court.

Remember, the primary purpose for the ordinance is to protect your animals from neglect and abuse and encourage responsible ownership. If you have questions about the ordinance or want help and advice for what is best for your pet, animal control officers are more than happy to help. Their main focus is to educate and inform — not to punish.

If you are unable to abide by the ordinance, you risk fines and potential loss and destruction of your property.

Please do your job as responsible pet owners, so I don’t have to do mine.

(Tracy Aragon is the municipal court judge for the Town of Peralta. He is the director of nuclear medicine at X-Ray Associates of Albuquerque. He is a lifelong resident of Valencia County.)

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The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.