Every dog has its day. And for an 11-year-old Australian Cattle dog named Blue that day is June 13, when the Elephant Butte, New Mexico City Council will decide whether Blue will be allowed to live leash-free, an issue that has sparked a lively community debate.
Bob Owen and his wife Janice Connor own the Butte General Store and Marine. Owen recently became the legal owner of Blue, often found hanging out near the store, because somebody had to claim him to be able to represent him at the meeting and legally. With all the support Blue has from residents, he now has his own checking account.
Owen said that Blue was abandoned in the town as a newborn and has become a fixture. In fact, he was living in the city before Elephant Butte officially became a city.
"Kids demand their parents stop [their car], because they want to go say hi to Blue. They've got to come see Blue," Owen said. "The entire community takes care of him. Our community is a resort town, we balloon as tourists come in, and it's phenomenal how many people stop to say hi to Blue before they go to the lake and stop to say bye before they leave town."
After a woman was mauled to death by a pit bull in a neighboring town, Elephant Butte created Animal Control Ordinance 131, a combination leash and vicious animal law, which states that dangerous dogs can be killed if they attack and that all dogs must be on leashes when in public.
"We have had major problems with pit bull attacks in majoring communities, so citizens in our communities said we need to strengthen our dog ordinances," said Elephant Butte Mayor Eunice Kent. "We had a good ordinance and had community input on it, that required a dog leash. People walking on the community path wanted to feel safe with dogs on a leash and wanted owners to pick up dog waste."
"He does not meet the vicious criteria and he was here before the city was here," Owen said. "He stays up on his shots, he's been neutered, he's a well, well, cared-for dog and he's been trained by this community, and he has trained the community. We've tried to take him home; he won't stay in a home."
Hillary Noskin, an Albuquerque-based attorney representing Blue pro bono, is trying to get a permit that would allow him to be an exception to the ordinance.
"I think the ordinance is a good thing and necessary to keep people safe, but it's like every law, which sometimes doesn't fit every situation, and that's why we are trying to make an exception with Blue," Noskin said.
In many ways, Blue is unlike most dogs. He has a checkbook with about $1800 is savings, which is balanced by several people at the Butte General Store and Marine. With the checking account, Blue pays his own veterinary bills, and even helps pay other dogs' veterinary bills. He also has a Facebook page where fans and supporters voice their support for the stray.
"There's a handful of people who have decided because there's an ordinance they take offense to this, so the city has to do something about it. The entire community is up in arms. Blue is not vicious, he doesn't growl and he doesn't hurt anybody."
"I guess there's a city meeting June 13, and whether they wanted it or not, I sent some possible amendment language," Noskin said. "They want to work this out; they don't want to spend the city's resources. Hopefully we can get this resolved in a reasonable way- as a taxpayer of Elephant Butte I would like to see us spend tax revenue wisely."
Kent said that the problem with making Blue a special exception is that other dog owners will start to say their dogs are not dangerous either and will demand exemptions, which she thinks will cause inconsistency.
"I love Blue, don't get me wrong, we all do, but Blue does not have an owner, Kent said. "He was acquired by some people and is named a community dog. This year we started receiving complaints about Blue, and we asked the people in the area where he hangs out to contain Blue because he had been snarling at people and walking into the street and the dog has not been contained."
Supporters are adamant, saying every rule has an exception.
"He doesn't have a mean bone in this body, he just lies down in the parking lot, and in winter he has a climate-controlled dog house…. In the summer he walks around the air-conditioned offices. He's the only dog on Christmas and New Years who gets plates and plates of dinner, and Thanksgiving dinners too."