When Harker Heights resident Cristina Chapa adopted her female chiweenie, Cha Cha, from the Killeen Animal Shelter, she thought it would be no problem to have her spayed within 30 days, the deadline given to new pet owners by the shelter.
Of course, that was before Chapa discovered Cha Cha was 50 days pregnant.
Chapa said she reported this to the shelter as soon as she found out, and she said she was never informed it would be a problem if she allowed Cha Cha to give birth.
Fast forward four months, and Chapa was fined more than $300 by the court when the shelter said she missed her deadlines.
“I adopted Cha Cha on April 9, and on April 23 I took her to the Belton Veterinary Clinic to get a wellness check because she was beginning to fill out,” Chapa said. “That’s when (Dr. Matthew Wright) performed a sonogram and said she was 50-plus days pregnant and would be delivering within about one-and-a-half to two weeks.”
According to a letter Wright wrote to the Killeen Animal Shelter on June 22, Chapa and her medical team decided that allowing Cha Cha to give birth and wean her puppies would be the best decision for the dog.
“We discussed a terminal spay or allowing the dog to whelp out and adopt the puppies,” the letter read. “... Ethically she felt the need to deliver the puppies, have them vaccinated and started on preventative health care, and then adopting them out.”
Chapa said she called the Killeen Animal Shelter the next day, April 24, and told the woman who answered the phone what the veterinarian had suggested.
She said the woman assured her that would be fine, and the shelter would make a note in Cha Cha’s file.
Then, soon after May 10, one day after Chapa’s initial deadline and the day Cha Cha had her litter, Chapa called to inform the shelter that her dog had delivered six puppies. The deadline was not discussed at that time, according to Chapa.
About a week later, Chapa said she received a call from the shelter and was asked why she had missed the initial deadline.
“At first I thought they had just made a mistake, you know how someone makes a note and the next person might not read it, I thought that was what happened,” she said. “I reminded her it should have been in my file, and she apologized and took my information down.
“Then an officer called again later and asked why I still had not spayed Cha Cha. After speaking for several minutes, I finally asked them, ‘What should I have done?’ and he told me it was my choice to allow her to have the puppies and I should have taken her back for them to terminate as a form of population control.
“So they wanted me to bring her in and let them kill the puppies, and she might not have even made it through that surgery?,” Chapa added. “I wasn’t going to do that.”
The Killeen Animal Shelter did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment on this story.
Instead of killing the puppies to make the spaying deadline, Chapa took to social media and told her friends that she had adopted a pregnant dog from the animal shelter, and the puppies would be up for adoption after they had been weaned.
Multiple friends quickly offered to adopt the puppies, and — after receiving assurances they would follow up with their vaccinations — each puppy quickly found a new home.
When Chapa contacted her veterinarian after the shelter told her she had missed her deadlines, that was when Wright wrote his letter to the shelter explaining that it was his medical opinion not to spay the dog until after the weaning period had ended, and Chapa was just following his medical advice.
“(Cha Cha) was about a week out from delivering, and we made the decision that the best thing for her was to not do a surgical procedure that may be dangerous and to let her have those babies,” Wright said. “After the mom had weaned those babies we then sterilized momma when it was safe for all parties. (Chapa) went above and beyond everything she should have done.”
Despite sending the letter June 22, Chapa said she received a court summons about July 12, asking her to appear before Judge Mark Kimball on Aug. 6 for failing to spay and vaccinate Cha Cha on time.
When Chapa arrived at court, she said she originally entered a plea of “not guilty,” but was told if she kept her plea she would not be able to take care of the situation that day, as the prosecutor was on vacation.
Hoping to resolve the situation by speaking with the judge, she changed her plea to “no contest.” Chapa said when she went before the judge he only took the time to read the letter written by Wright and ask if Cha Cha was presently spayed and vaccinated, to which Chapa answered in the affirmative, before ruling in favor of the shelter.
“He didn’t give me a chance to explain what had happened, that I had already gotten all the puppies adopted out and that I wanted to let him know the important parts, like that she was pregnant when I adopted her,” Chapa said. “I don’t even think he realized that. He just said he had everything he needed after he read the letter and then ruled in favor of the shelter.”
Now, Chapa is trying to appeal the ruling.
“They adopted out a dog that was pregnant when they picked it up,” Chapa said. “I didn’t know Cha Cha was pregnant, but when I found out, I didn’t actually mind it and I wanted Cha Cha to give birth and wean them because I love animals.
“I kept (the shelter) informed every step of the way, and they told me it was OK. I shouldn’t have been fined for missing the deadline because Cha Cha was pregnant, a letter from Dr. Matt should have taken care of it. Even he thought so, and he was shocked that I had to go to court because of this, and he said he would be there with me if I get a retrial.”
Animal advocates in Killeen also expressed surprise that the incident went all the way to the court and resulted in a fine.
“A simple phone call from the owner to the shelter saying that the dog was pregnant should have taken care of it,” said George Fox with the Killeen Animal Advisory Committee. “So having the vet actually write a letter should have completely stopped all of that.”
Chapa said she was told she has until Wednesday to file for a retrial. She said she is just hoping to be able to have the fines dropped, as well as the court costs accrued from each charge.
“Honestly, I don’t know what is going to happen,” Chapa said. “But I wanted to get this out there so it doesn’t happen to someone else. Something like this just shouldn’t happen. I am not sure why I have been harassed — this situation has caused me and my family a lot of pain and we can only hope that awareness of what is truly going on will result in change.”