Dog theft case ripples through New Mexico town
Torrance County sheriff's officials say they have had a flood of new calls since news of Swenerton's arrest broke. One woman, approached at a hamburger stand, seemed startled to hear of the case.
"My dog is missing. A lot of dogs are missing," Melissa Crozier said. She said her dog, Simba, recently disappeared from inside her home, behind an unlocked door. "I came home and he was gone. I have no idea how he could have gotten out" unless someone opened the door.
Torrance County Undersheriff Martin Rivera said that's how most of the cases came in: "People get home from work and their animal is missing."
Rivera said authorities had long suspected Swenerton, who is known by law enforcement and animal control authorities in Torrance, Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties for calling to report suspected animal abuse. In most cases, he says, the animals were fine, with food, water and proper shelter. In most cases, they were also outside.
"I think she is thinking if they are not inside, they are being abused," he said.
He said authorities believe Swenerton took the dogs to shelters in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Edgewood and other communities, possibly even other states, to be adopted. Additionally, he said, Swenerton had 20 dogs at her home in the mountain community of Tijeras, where she has a licensed dog rescue facility. Authorities say the animals were well cared for, and all were registered to the woman except one.
A microchip in that dog was traced back to a Bernalillo County family, whose shepherd mix, Alfie, went missing after the family was approached several times by a woman concerned about its care, authorities said. Swenerton told officers she had been given the dog.
No one appeared to be home at the address where the alleged pit bull thefts occurred on a recent afternoon, and the phone number that the resident, Senica Sanchez, gave police had been disconnected. The residence is an older mobile home with pulled curtains. A variety of vehicles and motorcycles were in the yard on the street last week, and two young pit bulls matching the description of those in the Torrance County sheriff's department incident report were tied up in the front yard.
When Swenerton was arrested, Rivera said, she was upset "because she felt she was doing the right thing. ... I think she just wanted to save these animals."
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