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New Animal Welfare director should build on progress

If we take seriously our responsibility to people, we take seriously our responsibility to animals, too.

The Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department (AWD) has made strides in achieving lower euthanasia rates in recent years. But all entities have room for improvement, and AWD is no exception, as highlighted in “Help Wanted: Professional Animal Welfare Director,” published in the Dec. 14 Albuquerque Journal.

Albuquerque deserves an objective, robust, nationwide search for the best-qualified new AWD director to take the helm. The AWD director position is responsible for a fully comprehensive animal welfare program that includes state-of-the-art sheltering, veterinary care and adoption, as well as a strong animal control/humane law enforcement field operation, and a preventative spay/neuter program.

Albuquerque taxpayers expect that the permanent AWD director will be tasked with taking a professional and accountable approach to build on the progress made over the past decade. This includes: ensuring AWD has the professional staff, budget and resources to meet the city’s needs; dramatically expanding low-cost spay/neuter programs available for the area’s dogs and cats; improving the monitoring, accountability, and success of the stray and feral cat trap-neuter-release program; addressing concerns over dangerous dog adoptions by strictly enforcing breed-neutral public safety policies; and ensuring the workplace culture fosters professionalism and empowers department employees to ensure the humane treatment of animals and protection of public safety.

We want to call attention to the critical responsibility of supervising AWD’s Field Division, tasked with serving the community, providing protection for the public and animals, and enforcing laws. Any person who has ever witnessed a dog left chained outside without food or water, or who has been impacted by the horrors of blood sports like cockfighting and dogfighting, knows why AWD’s Field Division must be strong. Mistreated animals can be a sign that there may be mistreated children, elders and others in a household. The established link between animal cruelty and family violence highlights why the AWD Field Division is so important. AWD Field Officers face a variety of potentially volatile situations every day, and they deserve leadership that respects their role and supports the highest standard of conduct.

Animal sheltering is a complicated profession with substantial responsibilities, full of compassionate and dedicated people. As best practices show, being effective in this line of work is not always as easy as focusing on one or two statistics related to euthanasia. There are too many tragic examples of short-sighted rescue efforts turning into horrific hoarding situations. At the same time, we have also seen too many examples of agencies where, because of a lack of resources and focused, strategic leadership, staff felt they had few options other than (1) warehousing animals for long periods of time, which is detrimental to the animals’ health or (2) euthanizing healthy, adoptable animals. Many factors must receive attention and balance, including adoption and placement, spay/neuter programs, standards of care for animals in shelter, humane enforcement of local and state laws, community support to keep beloved companion animals in their homes, and animal-related injury and disease.

Albuquerque residents care deeply about animals and understand that when we provide animals the respect and care they need and deserve, people benefit, too.

We look forward to Mayor Tim Keller’s leadership and the growth at AWD under a director who can roll up his or her sleeves and embrace the challenges, hard work and opportunities for success in this crucial leadership position.