City Animal Control Division officers have cited a 71-year-old Santa Fe man for cruelty to animals after a prairie dog advocacy group member reported he saw the man shoot a pellet gun at one of the critters from a truck.
Bruce Wienke, a retired program manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was cited Sunday morning, shortly after the witness reported he saw Wienke point a pellet rifle equipped with a scope at a prairie dog near the northwest corner of Galisteo Street and St. Michael’s Drive.
“I don’t have anything against prairie dogs per se,” Wienke said in a phone interview Monday. “I do know Santa Fe is overrun with them, but I’m not a terminator.”
Wienke said Monday that he had never before shot at a prairie dog but thinks that the city has to do something to control them, saying they are known to carry diseases such as hantavirus. Although the state Infectious Disease and Epidemiology website says prairie dogs can carry fleas that infect people and other animals with bubonic plague, hantavirus is linked to deer mouse droppings.
Steve Dobbie, a member of People for Native Ecosystems, said Monday that he had been sitting in his own car near Galisteo Street, using binoculars to conduct surveillance of the St. Michael’s Drive corner where he said 14 prairie dogs have been fatally shot with a pellet gun in recent weeks.
Dobbie said he saw Wienke’s white Toyota pickup pull up to the intersection and stop at the traffic light on the opposite side of St. Michael’s Drive. “I saw a rifle barrel stick out of the passenger side window of the car,” Dobbie said.
The pellet apparently missed its target, as Dobbie found no injured prairie dogs after the shooting.
Police went to Wienke’s house after Dobbie called authorities just after 8 a.m., providing a description of Wienke, the gun, his truck and his license plate.
Dobbie and his wife, Yvette, are volunteers with a Santa Fe group that feeds and seeks to protect the burrowing rodents.
For about a month, according to Santa Fe police Sgt. Andrea Dobyns, police have been working with the advocates to find the person or persons who have been killing prairie dogs.
“We thought we had some suspects, but we had to catch them in the act,” Dobbie said. “There’s such a love-hate relationship with prairie dogs in this town; it could have been anyone.”
Dobyns said that when officers interviewed Wienke at his home he admitted to shooting at a prairie dog while stopped at the red light but said he was not responsible for the earlier deaths of prairie dogs at the site.
“He said he had never shot a prairie dog at that location before,” Dobyns said.
Police took from Wienke’s home a Gamo SoCom Tactical .177-caliber airgun, according to a police report.
According to the police report by Officer Joe LeBlanc, Wienke told police he “did not know it was unlawful to shoot a pellet gun under these circumstances.”
Wienke said Monday that he was on his way home from working on his boat and had stopped at a bank near the St. Michael’s Drive intersection. He said he happened to have his pellet rifle with him, which he said he used to shoot one pellet at a prairie dog and drove away. “It was a stupid thing to do,” Wienke said, adding that he will not contest the charge against him.
According to Wienke’s résumé on a Gallant Aquatic Ventures International website, he is a scuba-diving consultant who has contributed to diving publications and previously worked as a program manager in applied and computational physics programs at LANL.
The animal cruelty citation will be heard in Municipal Court, where the maximum penalty for the petty misdemeanor is 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $300, according to assistant city attorney Alfred Walker. Police Capt. Aric Wheeler said his department planned to consult with a city attorney on whether the circumstances would also warrant a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler