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City’s Animal Welfare under new leadership, again

Danny Nevarez

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city’s embattled Animal Welfare Department is under new leadership – again.

John Soladay, who took over the department after the resignation of former director Paul Caster, retired at the end of March after around 90 days on the job.

Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman for Mayor Tim Keller, said Soladay’s retirement was expected “as he was serving in an interim status.”

The nationwide search for a permanent director continues.

In the meantime, Danny Nevarez has taken over as the department’s acting director.

“We are very pleased with the work being done under the current acting director, and are in the process of our nationwide search in order to get the most qualified person to continue the Mayor’s work to clean up the Animal Welfare Department,” Manzano wrote in an email.

Nevarez is also serving as the acting director of the city’s Environmental Health Department.

“I’m working hard and moving very fast,” Nevarez said in a Thursday interview.

Nevarez said he has made it one of his top missions to fill vacancies in the Animal Welfare field services department, which is struggling with a 38 percent vacancy rate.

“That’s certainly why the field is the number one priority for the mayor and he’s made that my number one priority as well,” Nevarez said.

Among the options for filling those vacancies are increased salaries and changing the requirements for animal welfare officers.

Soladay was brought in by the new administration to evaluate and revamp the department.

Employees had complained that live exits of animals seemed to trump all other considerations, including public safety, under former director Caster and associate director Deb Brinkman.

Brinkman was placed on administrative leave and an investigation was launched after it was alleged that she was inappropriately transporting dogs to her rescue operation in Colorado.

“The Animal Welfare Department will proceed with appropriate action when the investigation is complete,” Manzano said.

Soladay said in a February interview that relationships had largely broken down within the department between executive and lower level staff and the 400-person volunteer force, and he was working to improve communication.