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Lost Dog Highlights Problems in the System

This is a story about a lost dog.

But it’s also a story about how a found dog can help fill a gaping hole in a life. And how a bureaucracy often doesn’t work perfectly even for the people in charge of it.

And how out of a loss you can try to find solutions.

But first, that dog. Kiwi.

The Shih Tzu mix jumped into Bernalillo County Commissioner/congressional candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham’s car and life on a rainy day near the end of 2004. It was just a few months after Lujan Grisham’s husband, Gregory, collapsed while jogging and died unexpectedly from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. She had pulled into her driveway in the North Valley, opened the car door, and Kiwi “jumped into my lap. Game over,” she says.

Lujan Grisham says she did a little investigating and found out the dog was an escapee from Animal Humane, so she microchipped, spayed and adopted it. In the ensuing years the two have established “a very special relationship.” Her two daughters joke about their other sister, and Lujan Grisham swears Kiwi can say “I love you” and “mama.” She says matter-of-factly that with the dog “my family dynamic has changed” and Kiwi is “my best four-legged friend.”

Sure, it sounds a little silly. It also sounds like most pet owners who love their companion animals.

That’s why June 9 is hitting Lujan Grisham hard. Because that Saturday morning Kiwi, apparently frightened by a hot-air balloon overhead, dug her way out of the enclosed front yard and disappeared. While her pink collar went with her, her tags fell off during the escape.

In the past 13 days Lujan Grisham says she has worked the private side and the public side of the lost pet system. On the private side she has done what any experienced campaigner would do – she has, after all, won a county commission race and the contest to be on the November ballot as the Democratic nominee for the state’s 1st Congressional District. So in addition to lost dog posters and a notice on Craigslist, she’s canvassed the neighborhood. She’s paid neighborhood kids to help her go door to door. And she’s put two notices on and gone with the deluxe package – starting at $59.95 – to have the pet version of Amber Alert calls go out to neighbors.

Robo-calling for a lost dog. Who knew?

On the public side she’s reported her lost dog to the city and county (she says she was on hold for two and a half hours one day). And she and/or her daughters have gone to the city shelter in person every day since Kiwi escaped – not only because they miss Kiwi, but because they were told to by the folks in charge that lost pets sometimes “fall through the cracks.”

If this is how it works for a county commissioner, what hope does someone like the elderly woman who got one of Lujan Grisham’s robo-calls have? Lujan Grisham says Pauline called her weeping over the loss of Kiwi and the loss of her own beloved Maltese. And that made the county commissioner realize “I have the means” to go above and beyond the standard public route. “What happens to everybody else? What if you’re homebound? What if you can’t afford the gas” to drive to the shelter daily?

Sometimes you might get lucky. Sometimes you might cry a lot like Pauline.

Lujan Grisham says she has learned that the city and county animal control software doesn’t interface with each other, so pet owners have to file two lost-animal reports. That unlike the city and county, when the state Transportation Department picks a dead pet up off the road, crews don’t scan for a microchip and report it to anyone. (While the hand-held scanners cost only a few hundred bucks, NMDOT says “often times the aftermath of animals being hit by vehicles is too gruesome to allow for that type of identification.”)

So as Lujan Grisham continues her search for Kiwi she also wants to find a better way to help reunite pet owners with their lost pets. She says the animal services systems and cleanup crews need to talk to each other. That more volunteers are needed to operate phone banks so callers can get through to helpful information and advice on how to best proceed and succeed in finding their pet. And that current city-county talks on improving communication are great, but achievable benchmarks need to be set so changes actually happen.

Losing a pet “is an emotional issue,” Lujan Grisham says. “I would love to be reunited. I am hopeful, but I know every day that goes by it is less likely.”

Here’s hoping that with the commissioner’s personal experience as impetus, a streamlined system is more likely.


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