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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Coming off years of drought and recession that have taken a toll on animals as well as humans, New Mexico lawmakers are considering more than two dozen animal protection bills that propose everything from raising money for starving horses to increasing penalties for neglecting pets.
Elizabeth Jennings, executive director of Animal Protection New Mexico, and Dawn Glass, marketing manager for Animal Humane, agree the number of bills aimed at helping animals is higher than usual this year. One reason, they say, is the increased awareness of the link between cruelty to animals and abuse of people.
"It's a chronic problem," Glass said, "and recent studies have shown that animal cruelty is so closely linked with domestic abuse and child abuse that it shouldn't just be an issue with animal lovers, it should be an issue to everyone in our community."
Jennings said that awareness has spread throughout the law enforcement community, which is helping the cause.
Jennings said her agency is tracking some 30 bills this session, including proposals to make extreme cruelty such as starving an animal or letting it freeze to death a fourth-degree felony. Another bill would expand the definition of extreme cruelty to include the intentional starving or dehydration of animals, to the point that it endangers their life, Glass said.
"That's important," she said. "We get emaciated pets all the time."
The economy and drought, which combined have led to increases in the abandonment of dogs, cats and horses, has also played a role. The plight of neglected horses was highlighted this year when a number of groups, including some horse rescues, backed a proposal to open a horse slaughterhouse, saying it was the most humane solution to the horse overpopulation problem that is taxing the ability to care for all the starving and abandoned equines.
A Senate bill proposes creation of a fund to help the state's nonprofit horse rescues. It would be funded through voluntary contributions from state income tax returns.
"We don't support slaughter, so we are hoping to set up a series of other alternatives that will set up a more robust safety net," Jennings said, noting the state has about 11 licensed horse rescues that currently receive no public funding.
Both groups are pushing another bill that prohibits the adoption of bans on specific breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls. Last year, she said, a lawmaker tried to push a ban on pit bulls through the Legislature.
Glass said this year's bill is a top priority for her group, so that it "we don't have to constantly bat down these proposals. ... They have been proven they don't work. They cost millions of dollars and ultimately mean the deaths of thousands of dogs."
On the heels of a controversial gun shop-sponsored coyote hunt south of Albuquerque last year, the animal groups are also supporting a bill to ban coyote hunts.
Other animal welfare bills include proposals to improve drug testing for racehorses; restrict the use of animal traps and poison; continue authorization for a board that oversees government-run shelters and euthanasia programs; and let police handlers and corrections officers adopt for free their retiring canine companions.