A group of neighbors in the Rowe area say they are worried and frustrated by San Miguel County officials’ inability to deal with a woman who has more than 60 dogs on her property, including seven that are pregnant.
“I’m about to get my bolt cutters out because we are just a few miles away from 60 dogs who are dying,” said Charlotte Taft, one of a group of area residents who say they can’t get the county sheriff and animal control officer to do anything about animals they say neighbor Jessica Taylor has on her property — a shelter she describes as superior to others in the area.
Neighbors complain that the dogs bark incessantly and aren’t being cared for properly.
“Trying to get Jessica’s cooperation is impossible, and trying to get the legal system to move is impossible. So we are in a really bad place right now, and so are the dogs,” Taft said late last week. “That’s the real issue. No one has laid eyes on most of the dogs since Sept. 4. They could be OK and that would be wonderful, but we really don’t know and that’s making my stomach hurt every day.”
In a phone interview Friday, Taylor said neighbors’ concerns are unfounded and the animals have a good quality of life at the facility she operates about 28 miles northeast of Santa Fe.
“It’s probably better than most sanctuaries, and it’s definitely better than most shelters where they [the animals] are kept on concrete,” she said.
Still, neighbors note Taylor was charged with eight counts of extreme cruelty to animals and 27 counts of cruelty to animals in February after the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office seized 26 dogs, two goats and four cats from her property in nearby Ilfeld.
Four dead dogs, a dead goat and various animal bones also were seized during the raid, according to a court records.
A sheriff’s deputy said in an affidavit that, during the raid last winter, investigators encountered multiple kennels that had “little to no water and the food was poured on the ground and in such small quantity that it was not enough to sustain the amount of animals in each kennel.”
In addition, the affidavit said, food was lying next to feces, urine and other contaminants.
Taylor argued the deputies’ descriptions are untrue but said she hasn’t had a chance to make her case because a preliminary hearing has not been set.
In a handwritten motion to dismiss her case, she wrote: “This case is political and not at all a reflection of me as a caregiver of animals operating a legitimate nonprofit for over 10 years. … It’s about a lack of morality in our public officials and about the greed in general of people. It’s about the reality that no state or county facility exists in San Miguel County to help the animals beyond what I have provided for them.”
According to a 2008 story in the Las Vegas Optic, Taylor, 70, has a Ph.D. in health care and is a photographer and sculptor who once owned a gallery in Santa Fe. She founded her own animal shelter in Ilfeld called Green Gates Sanctuary.
She agreed in 2008 to take responsibility for multiple animals following the closure of another shelter in Las Vegas, N.M., according to the Optic.
Rachel Hasted, a Santa Fe woman who encountered Taylor’s dogs while searching for property on which to house her own recently formed no-kill animal sanctuary in early August, said Taylor was allowing her and a few others to water and feed the animals. But Taylor has since become distrustful and forbidden the volunteers from coming, she added.
“I was letting them in, but they were being dishonest in here,” Taylor said Friday. “I can’t have people who are doing things behind my back.”
Hasted said she’s gathered donations of food, equipment and spay and neutering services to help take care of the dogs, and has been trying to secure Taylor’s permission to take over legal responsibility for the animals in hopes of socializing and adopting them out.
“I think about these dogs every day,” Hasted wrote in an email Tuesday. “They are in my dreams. I am haunted.”
Taylor’s neighbor say they have tried unsuccessfully to get the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office and an animal control officer to intervene, to no avail.
“In the past 3-4 days, greater than 100 emails have been sent to Sheriff Chris Lopez and Under-sheriff Mike Padilla regarding the above stated complaints,” neighbor Kurt Spencer wrote in a notarized statement he and his wife Diane hand-delivered to the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, N.M.
Animal Control Officer Rodney Perea referred questions to Padilla.
Neither Lopez nor Padilla responded to multiple messages from The New Mexican.
Kurt Spencer said he is one of four people Taylor allowed to enter her property to check on the animals Sept. 15.
“What I saw was probably about 15 to 20 dogs that were in pens that didn’t have any visible water, they were standing in dirt and feces and hay,” Spencer said. “But that was only a small percentage of what is going on there.
“There was a lot of barking going on. We brought in 55 gallons of water for the dogs,” he said. “We had many, many bags of dog food we brought in to her. And we took out 15 to 20 bags of garbage and hay and feces to the dump for her. The actual shape of the dogs was not terrible. They weren’t underfed. But we don’t know if they were dehydrated. Her well is only working part-time.”
The neighbors say Taylor does not have a vehicle to get food for the animals. Taylor acknowledged she hasn’t had a vehicle since December, when she claims someone put sugar in her gas tank, ruining the engine.
The Spencers, who live a few houses away from Taylor, say they want authorities to conduct an investigation at Taylor’s property in Rowe and obtain an emergency order from a judge that would allow volunteers to care for the animals without her interference.
Twila Quintana, a San Miguel County assistant district attorney, said the pending animal cruelty case against Taylor has been slowed by the fact that her first attorney, whom she has since dismissed, raised the issue of competency in the case. Quintana said a public defender who was later appointed to represent Taylor has since said he believes Taylor is competent.
Quintana said Taylor is violating the conditions of her release in the pending case by possessing animals. Her office filed a motion Sept. 12 asking the court to consider possible remedies, including ordering Taylor be taken back into custody. A hearing has not yet been set.
“But then the issue becomes what happens to those animals,” Quintana said, noting the shelter which serves the county is already full with dogs deputies seized from Taylor earlier this year.
Taylor said Friday the animals on the Rowe property and the property itself belong to Green Gates Sanctuary, not her personally, and the conditions of imposed on her don’t apply to the nonprofit.
Santa Fe Animal Shelter executive director Jennifer Steketee said Taylor allowed her and another veterinarian to do an inventory of her animals in mid-August. Steketee said she counted 63 dogs at the time.
“In the areas we were allowed to explore, they were actually in good physical condition but they were very unsociable and did not have food or water in their kennels,” Steketee said Thursday.
“It’s a sad situation where somebody may have originally tried to do something positive, but now we have over 60 animals who have very few options,” Steketee said.