The sign outside the Elephant Butte General Store & Marine reads "Guard dog on duty," but residents in the area told ABC-7 the Australian Shepherd mix named Blue that calls the store home is anything but vicious.
Some residents are upset about Blue's lifestyle. It's not the fact he's saved up more than $1,000 or even the fact he has an air conditioned doghouse; these residents are upset that Blue lives his life off-leash without any restraints in where he roams.
"You can't take him home. We've tried. You can't pen him up. He just stays in the parking lot," Elephant Butte General Store Owner, Bob Owen, told ABC-7.
Owen said Blue has lived without an owner in Elephant Butte from about ten years now. Blue was abandoned as a puppy and the owner of a local taco restaurant took the pup in, said Owen. Blue spent his days at the restaurant being pampered by people in the community.
After the owner passed away from cancer, Owen said Blue moved on to his general store and that's where he spends his days now.
Through collection jars set up at the store and other shops around town, Blue has collected more than $1,000 in savings. Owen said that money is used to pay for the dog's vet bills, food and legal bills.
In response to a fatal dog mauling in nearby Truth Or Consequences, the city of Elephant Butte passed an animal control ordinance that requires all dogs to be leashed when in public areas.
"We've had many complaints from constituents and they want us to enforce our dog ordinance," said Elephant Butte mayor, Eunice Kent.
Blue's facing a problem after several residents complained about the dog's off-leash lifestyle, saying he needs to be constrained like all other dogs in town.
"It's the law. You have to follow the law. If you're not going to follow the law the dog is going to be taken by the dog catcher. If you're not okay with that, let someone adopt the dog and take care of it," a resident who did not want to be identified told ABC-7.
Mayor Kent said the city has to be consistent in the enforcement of the law in order to protect the dogs and the residents.
"We have had dog maulings, and residents have a fear. We know there are potentially dangerous dogs out there but we don't know which one will bite someone," Kent said.
The city has cited Owen for Blue being off-leash on his property and the issue was taken to court. Blue is being represented by an attorney from Albuquerque who is working pro bono. The city, however, is spending lots of hours and taxpayer dollars working on this issue and paying for legal bills. Kent said the judge ruled Owen should ask the city for a special use permit so Blue can roam free, but she said the city does not have those. The case will go to court in August.
Owen said he just wants Blue to live a happy, free life.
"If the city would rewrite the ordinance or change the wording in the vicious dog ordinance to allow for dogs like Blue, not just Blue, this would go away in a matter of minutes," Owen said.
Residents complaining about Blue agree the solution is simple: There is a law and it needs to be followed.
"This could all be settled by someone adopting this dog, taking care of it and putting it on a leash," said a resident who did not want to be identified.
Owen said if the city chooses not to make an exception for Blue, he will find a way to keep the dog free of constraints.
"I guess they'll keep on giving me citations. We'll keep paying them. I don't know what. But we can't fence that dog in. It'll be a death sentence to him," Owen said.
The city is holding a public meeting on June 13 to discuss the issue. The meeting will be held at city council chambers at 2 pm. Kent said the city council will take public opinions into account, but the final decision may be up to a judge in August.