Animal advocates ask for more enforcement at Ascarate Lake

Hundreds of domestic animals are dumped at Ascarate Park and Lake every year. Adovcates say more supervision from park staff and law enforcement could help prevent it.

Hundreds of domestic animals are dumped at Ascarate Lake every year, and local animal advocates are asking for more accountability and enforcement from the county who owns the property and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSCO).

In this week’s KFOX Pet Pals, we reached out to the EPSCO to find out why enforcement was an issue and what they're now doing to prevent the illegal dumping.

After multiple rescues organized by local animal lovers, organizations and advocates in the community to help save domestic animals dumped at Ascarate Lake are asking county leaders and EPSCO to do what they can to prevent the dumping in the first place.

The group complains about the lack of enforcement and funds to protect these animals. They said they feel that law enforcement and county should be more responsible for preventing the dumping.

Sgt. Rojas is one of three supervisors in charge of the EPSCO animal control.

He tells KFOX14 they're working to better supervise the lake now and have more man power to do so.

"We are aware of the issues at Ascarate Lake. As far as the Sheriff's Office goes, we patrol that area as much as possible, whether it is an animal control officer or a deputy. We try to respond quickly when we receive a call there too, but it can take time because we may have other calls in progress," Rojas said.

Abandoning a domestic animal is against the law, but Rojas tells me no one has been ever been cited at the park for illegal dumping, and it’s due to multiple factors.

“It is a class A misdemeanor and an arrestable offense. Most won’t dump an animal in front of us, and in some cases, we’ve been able to help them re-home (the animal) or contact a rescue for help. Other times, by the time we get there, the reporter who saw someone dumping an animal is not there, so we have no credible witness. We need witnesses to come forward, people to be cooperative and give us facts. Our animal control officers will generate a report, pick up the animal, but they need facts and clear descriptions so that a detective can then pick (the case) up and cite someone to move it to the District Attorney’s Office,” he said.

Recently, the county has put up new signs around the park and lake to help warn and educate visitors and dumpers about the law; Texas code title 9, chapter 43 under section 42.092.

Rojas believes these signs may not stop everyone, but will help deter most people from dumping and inquire for help instead.

County officials said they have also trained park staff to keep a better eye out for offenders and are passing out education flyers weekends and during high traffic periods. While more can still be done, EPSCO wants to remind the community and advocates that they’re solely in charge of enforcement.

They do, however, offer suggestions and are willing to work with other entities focused on assisting animals in the community

“We want to help these animals, but the lake is not our property. We also cannot change the laws. We are supervising as best we can and have tried to coordinate a rescue to save the animals that have been dumped. We can pick them up, but (we) do not have the facilities to house or treat them. We have a contract with the city, so a majority of the animals we pick up go there. Otherwise, we get them back home, or reach out to experts or other rescues to get them adopted,” Rojas said.

Rojas went on to say that these steps are a move in the right direction, but others have fallen through on efforts to save an unknown amount of domestic animals that are at the lake now. Once plans do move forward, he said EPSCO will be there to assist in any way possible.

The community can help prevent illegal dumping, and EPSCO asks visitors to be vigilant at the park. If you see someone dumping an animal, you can call the EPCSO at 915-546-2280, or the Ascarate Park office Monday through Friday at 915-771-2380.

Again, witnesses are key in helping to cite illegal dumpers. Rojas recommends not confronting anyone, but instead keeping a safe distance and getting a license plate number, person and vehicle description. Pictures and video are also helpful.

It’s taken years for this progress and any proactive measures presently in place to get to where they are today, according to the advocates I spoke to. Many say the current steps still aren't enough and the signs alone took years to put up.

In next week’s KFOX Pet Pals, we reach out to the county for more answers. Find out what they have to say about funding and their responsibility to protect animals at Ascarate Lake and Park.

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