Shocking comment disrupts city’s Animal Ordinance workshop

Comments at a Marfa City Council Animal Ordinance workshop this week have spurred an investigation into a potential third degree felony charge for a “terroristic threat.”

Comments at a Marfa City Council Animal Ordinance workshop this week have spurred an investigation into a potential third degree felony charge for a “terroristic threat.” Monday’s workshop was almost entirely cordial—friendly back-and-forths between citizens and council begat new ideas to create a healthy coexistence of animals and citizens in Marfa. However, a shocking comment from one Marfa citizen has been perceived by some councilmembers as a threat to their lives.

As council plodded through the 36-page comprehensive document Monday evening in the Casner Room at City Hall, a tense and confusing moment erupted during discussions about euthanasia. The new ordinance proposed that the city would investigate any animal cruelty, including when “a person euthanizes his or her own animal in a manner other than defined in this ordinance.”

If put into effect, Marfa pet owners could only put an animal to death “in a manner and method which does not cause pain or distress, nor take longer than one minute to effect unconsciousness or death, and is in compliance with the provisions of V.T.C.A., Health and Safety Code ch. 823.”

 Michael Calvert, a Marfa resident in attendance, implied that he had euthanized a pet before, and stated, “Based on this, I would go to jail.” City Attorney Teresa Todd assured Calvert that the ordinance would be enforced through written citations, which would actually not result in jail time. As Councilmember Buck Johnston concurred, “You’re not going to jail,” Calvert quipped back, “No, because I’ll kill every one of you.” 

Attorney Todd laughed loudly, and Councilmember Lara sarcastically called out, “Security!” before laughing. Mayor Manny Baeza and Councilmember Yoseff Ben-Yehuda turned their heads to Police Chief Steve Marquez and asked if he’d heard the comment. Marquez was disturbed by it, and approached Baeza to ask if the mayor wanted any action taken then.

Baeza rebuffed, saying they should move on and discuss the incident with the city attorney after the meeting. Once council approved the euthanasia rules as is, Calvert and his wife, both frustrated, left the workshop.

On Tuesday, Chief Marquez told the Sentinel, “I have talked to Teresa Todd and a couple members of the council, and I talked to the mayor. We’re going to go forth with an investigation into a terroristic threat. It looks like it’s going to be a felony, so I have gotten in contact with the DA’s office. I am going to do my report here and then get statements from all council members.”

“Whether he was joking around or not, it’s not appropriate at an official meeting,” Marquez stated. “He kept mentioning shooting people through the whole meeting. It was very disturbing for him to say that to our leaders.”

The chief of police was referencing an earlier moment in the meeting when council was discussing the right of any animal control officer to enter the yard of a private residence if they saw an abused or neglected animal. Calvert interjected then that he would defend his property against anyone who entered it by shooting them.

Attorney Todd said after the fact that she hadn’t halted the meeting because the comment had left her in shock. “If this occurs again in the future, law enforcement would intervene and escort a person out.”

Calvert was distressed to learn his comment was being investigated and spoke regretfully of the incident on Wednesday. “It was in jest, completely in jest. I don’t know what else to say. They got me upset, because it seemed like they didn’t even want to listen. Right after I said it, I thought, ‘You idiot, you’re not gonna shoot nobody.’” Calvert offered, “If they need an apology, I’ll give it in writing or whatever they need.”

Aside from the evening’s bizarre altercation, Marfa citizens came out en masse to share ideas and concerns about animals that live in the Marfa community. There was an air of collaboration, and citizens and council hashed out revisions to the newly proposed ordinance, paving the way for the city to enforce leash laws, control feral cat colonies and end the legal tethering of dogs outside, should the new ordinance be approved by council.

Marfa resident Mary Lou Saxon began the conversation about “tethering,” which is the practice of tying an animal to a stationary object, stating that she has seen dogs chained for the majority of their lives in Marfa, often without adequate access to water or shade. Local resident Shelley Bernstein also supported a ban on chaining dogs, which she said was already illegal in 19 cities in Texas, including Dallas, Galveston, Georgetown, Monahans, and a slew of others.

Councilmember Johnston concurred, bringing forth language to amend the proposed ordinance to state, “The City of Marfa prohibits tethering a dog to a stationary object, but allows a dog to be tethered no longer than is necessary for a person to complete a temporary task that requires the dog to be restrained for a reasonable period, and not to exceed three hours in a 24-hour period,” and councilmembers approved the changes. Animals are still allowed to be kept outside if they are fenced in, or attached to a trolley system that allows them to move around and access shade.

Minerva Lopez and Kathie Compton from Responsible Ownership of Marfa Pets (ROMP) spoke about a part of the ordinance that would penalize those who feed feral cat colonies. Council agreed to a revision that would allow Marfa citizens to continue feeding feral cats as long as they registered their colony with ROMP, and were somewhere in the process of trapping, spaying or neutering, and releasing the cats. ROMP currently has seventeen feral cat colonies registered in Marfa.

Other measures were swiftly agreed to, such as banning the act of leaving behind a pet’s waste anywhere in the city, and keeping the city’s previous requirement that all pets be leashed when out in public, unless they are in a vehicle like a truck or car, bike basket, or motorcycle.

If the ordinance does pass in its current form, all pets will still be required to be registered with the city. The database allows lost animals to be returned to their owners, and tracks rabies and distemper shots for cats and dogs. The new change is that it’s now only $5 to register the animal, and free to renew the registration every 3 years when rabies vaccinations are redone.

Just as few have been aware of the registry in the past, it appeared that few Marfa residents were aware that selling or giving away animals out of your home requires a kennel permit from the city. Even animals listed for sale or for free online must be reported if they are not coming from an official kennel, according to Animal Control Officer George Gonzales. Otherwise, animal vendors can be cited and fined.

Tonight, council will meet at 6pm in the Casner Room to review the first draft of the Animal Ordinance, and direct staff regarding any additional directives or modifications to the document. The public is invited to attend and give comments concerning the proposed ordinance.