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Farmington out to change culture

FARMINGTON – Upward of 9,000 animals make their way into the Farmington Animal Shelter each year.

And on average, slightly less than half are euthanized.

“It’s on the bad side of the problem,” said Dr. Manuel Garcia, a veterinarian and the chairman of the recently reorganized Farmington Animal Services Advisory Commission, which advises the mayor and city officials on animal services.

“There are some places that have their problem cleaned up pretty well,” Garcia said. “But I think our numbers are higher than the national average.”

Angie Arnold, the shelter’s newly appointed director, said 767 animals were taken into the shelter in May, with more than half of the animals originating from the county outside city limits. About 46 percent of those were euthanized.

In that same month, 2,385 animals were brought to the city shelters in Albuquerque, which has a population of about 546,000 compared with Farmington’s 46,000, and 17 percent were put down. (Comparing counties: Bernalillo, 671,000; San Juan, 128,200.)

The problem, though, is not just a Farmington problem, or a county problem.

It’s a community problem, Garcia stressed, and changing it is going to take changing the mindset of the community.

The issue at the shelter becomes trying to increase output while at the same time decreasing intake.

“It’s a multipronged approach to the problem of pet overpopulation in San Juan County,” Garcia said. “The shelter is at the end of the road,” he added. “The problem is at the beginning.”

Animal activists hope the new shelter designs is one of the first steps in solving the problem in the area.

“It’s going to take a lot of work from the entire county to really get a full handle on the problem,” Garcia said. “It can’t just be Farmington that decides to do something. It has to be the entire county so we can begin to eliminate the problem. I think it will take a general mind shift … and I think the new shelter is a great place to start.”

The new plans, recently unveiled to the Farmington City Council, were met with approval and excitement from animal activists.

Located on an area near Animas River Park, the proposed 14,987-square-foot building will have the ability to house 170 dogs, 130 cats and five exotic animals.

Two entrances will exist: one for adoptions and the other for surrender or claiming animals picked up by animal control officers.

“It’s a better flow,” said Arnold, who worked closely with architects to ensure employees weren’t running “their hearts out.”

But the new design, which will create a pet-store like environment and be much more user-friendly for both employees and consumers, is only one step in working to reduce and control the pet population, much of which stems from lack of spaying and neutering.

“We hope our spay and neuter clinic makes a dent in the future population,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t matter how much capacity you have. You can have 1,000 kennels and they will be filled up.”

Activists hope to encourage increased adoption, increased population control through spay and neuter programs offered to low-income families, and to use rescue groups more.

The Farmington Animal Services Advisory Commission hopes to educate the public.

The commission is charged with recommending procedures and protocol related to animal welfare, animal cruelty and neglect, education and outreach, adoption, foster care and say and neuter programs.

Garcia hopes the new shelter along with the commission’s efforts will demonstrate to the community how much Farmington cares about its pets.

It will be nice five years down the road to show the community a significant decrease in euthanasia rates, he said.

“Once we start to get that mindset, that it’s not OK not to spay and neuter, it’s not OK to not provide shelter, it’s not OK to tether all day, things overall will change,” Garcia said.