No, in this town the metaphor for entering an alternate reality that makes no sense should be “down the prairie dog hole”. I don’t think the rabbits bother digging their own holes here. We sit on the porch and watch the p-dogs. There are at least a dozen holes between the house and the street. We put used kitty litter in the ones in the driveway to discourage burrowing where a car might fall in, but it doesn’t seem to deter them. Navigating the parking lot in the truck involves swerving to avoid the pits of caved in tunnels.
The porch is a thick concrete block that runs the length of the building. There is a wide awning over the two doorways, and a couple of Siberian elm trees hug the edge of the concrete making it a shady leafy retreat. We sit in a tidy row on an ancient set of wooden sale-ring seats, watching the p-dogs through the leafy screen.
Click to listen to the prairie dog in the driveway.
Prairie dogs bark or at least yip like a big bird. The prevalence of carrion flies around makes me think that they breed in the dark rodent holes, perhaps on unfortunately dead p-dogs or just p-dog poo. Prairie dog populations swell until some disease comes in and wipes them out for a while. “Some disease” might be bubonic plague, which kills people in New Mexico occasionally. Perhaps there are less zoonotic diseases that take them down as well, but in town, between the interstate and the train tracks, there are no coyotes to do any predator control. Perhaps there are ferrets? I saw a long and lean animal with a long tail run from burrow to burrow from my wooden seat on the porch. It’s an underground ecosystem and anything could happen down there.
One of the topics of conversation on the porch is the Village of Milan, our personal rabbit hole. We still don’t understand why they wanted us to leave and we are still in Temporary Use Permit limbo. We didn’t get kicked out, yet, but we haven’t been told we can stay either. We simply don’t know.
After Code Enforcement officer Rodney London served the papers for our eviction (see Blog 11. Slip Slidin’ Away), I went into a defensive strategy. I asked people to write letters, polite letters, to the Mayor and Village Clerk. Letters started pouring in from all over the planet. I called up Jami Seymore, at Fox News New Mexico, who had recently done a piece on us and the Placitas Horses. She came back and interviewed me, but Rodney London had little to say to tell the village’s side of the story. It made the village look petty and mean. See for yourself. Jami’s story aired on the morning of the 16th. We met with the Village trustees on the evening of the 16th, but none of them had seen the news at that point.
I stood up to represent Mustang Camp, but immediately was confronted by Trustee Baca who had printed somewhat tangential things out about mustangs and the BLM from the internet she wanted me to respond to. I asked for her source and she said, “Just Google it.” I managed my temper until she called me a liar, saying I had said we would only have 50 horses. I had told the Planning & Zoning (P&Z) meeting in March we would swell up to 70 at first since we had to cope with the influx of Placitas horses. I hate being called a liar.
A scuffle broke out in the audience. Rodney, Howard Michael, and a P&Z member started yelling at each other on the sidelines. Rodney was insisting that “There are no minutes.” I assume they were arguing about if I had said 50 or 70.
Ms. Baca then confronted me about why we had left Largo Canyon, and why we had come here if we had so many supporters from around the world. She made a big deal of a letter sent in by Veronica Moore, one of our strongest supporters. She twisted Veronica’s letter to suggest that we had abused horses in some way. I could make no sense of what she was saying.
I tried to respond to the board authentically, but it seemed the cards were stacked against me. I could see that there was nothing I could do or say to placate Trustee Baca. So, trying to retain some dignity, I gathered my papers, and said, “Fine, I will continue preparations to vacate the property.” Later on John and Anja would tell me that I had failed in this moment and that I should never be the one to represent our organization. I should have just ignored Baca and told the story I wanted people to know about.
Lauri Jaramillo, a member of Placitas Wild, stood up and presented an emotional and passionate story of love for these horses. Trustee Archuleta and Mayguyor Gonzales had tears in their eyes. They wanted to support our plea to extend the temporary use permit. The female trustees remained unmoved. They agreed to postpone the decision until the 24th of May. The emotional appeal had been much more effective than the rational one.
Before we left the meeting, John made a point to invite the Board and Trustees and the Planning and Zoning Board to tour the facilities before the meeting. They had to come as a group as they could not meet with us individually by law. I had given up. John was optimistic, and Anja (MC’s president) knew she needed to coach me on diplomacy.
The next day the Cibola Citizen newspaper headlines were WILD EQUINE FIASCO and the Trustees got an opportunity to consider how Milan looked on state-wide Fox News seeing Jami’s piece. I imagine they also started hearing about it from their constituents who generally saw no reason to kick the mustangs out. I would like to know if they had more justification than “she lied to us about the number of horses.” Maybe someday we will hear that side.
The Village officials were polite when they showed up for the tour. It was the P&Z board mostly and Trustee Baca. We stood in the sale barn lobby and talked about what our mission and program is, then we hiked them around the mare pen and through the block of stallions. Everything was clean, neat, and organized, as it is almost every day. They were a little bit impressed and we got the feeling that things were going to work out.
The Meeting on the 24th was a little bit better. The next day’s newspaper headlines read THE HORSES CAN STAY, though the outcome still has me confused. The Village is accepting our horse manure weekly to put on their park where blowing dust is a problem. We had to get down to 50 horses by the end of June. We got down to 51 (still too many to efficiently care for and train in my opinion but I’m getting them out as fast as I can.) The Village is supposed to have a committee to work on drafting an agreement with us, but we suspect it will be better if we just submit a proposed agreement that says we will meet all the requirements to be a licensed equine rescue in the State of New Mexico and that we will comply with all local ordinances. No additional promises seem necessary to me, but I am not sure when I don’t understand the issue to begin with.
So… about those local ordinances… there is a section in the code about animals in the village. Livestock are specifically not allowed unless they have a special livestock permit. Zebras require an exotic animal permit. No one has ever applied for either of these permits until we did. On June 6th, 2019, we became the holders of Animal Permits Numbers 0001, 0002, and 0003. Sixty animals are covered by our permits. I suspect the Board of Trustees is not familiar with the livestock permitting system and will be shocked to learn that we complied with it. There are no other legal livestock in the village. The horses across the street from us that belong to a member of the P&Z board are in violation of the law. Not that we care.
We think the Village will want to meet with us again in July about the special use permit. They still might evict us or just let us continue, I don’t know what will happen down this rabbit hole. But it remains a topic of much speculation on our leafy porch.