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Tail-wagging time

Before a Tuesday news conference at the Animal Welfare Department's Eastside Shelter, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller gives some love to Jemmy. The 5-year-old Yorkie is now available for adoption. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Before a Tuesday news conference at the Animal Welfare Department’s Eastside Shelter, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller gives some love to Jemmy. The 5-year-old Yorkie is now available for adoption. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller got a close-up look at what officers with the Animal Welfare Department do during a Tuesday afternoon ride-along, when his companion responded to a call about a puppy that was not being properly cared for, as well as another call for removal of a nonvenomous brown snake from a front yard.

Returning from the ride-along, Keller and the new team at the Animal Welfare Department held a news conference outside the Eastside Shelter to talk about the progress made in reforming the department.

Since he took office about 18 months ago, he said, the department “has done a complete 180 from being one of our most deeply challenged departments to becoming one of the shining star departments in the city of Albuquerque.”

After hosting three job fairs to recruit employees and the signing of a bargaining agreement “that fixed a lot of salary compensation issues that was hindering hiring,” the 40% staff vacancy rate is now gone and all positions are filled, Keller said.

A backlog of 2,300 calls for service has been eliminated, and response times for Priority 1 calls – the most important – dropped from over an hour to 22 minutes, while responses to less urgent, Priority 2 calls dropped to under 45 minutes.

Danny Nevarez

Danny Nevarez

Also, the animal euthanasia rate is down 11%, with 1,113 animals put down in the current fiscal year, while the save rate of animals has been averaging 90% or greater.

Animal Welfare Department Director Danny Nevarez said, “The trust and support the administration has given the department has been the catalyst to all of this change.”

Nevarez said he was most proud of the “culture of change” that has permeated the department and is “the foundation for the energy, the new ideas and innovations” that have led to the department’s turnaround.

He noted that over the past year, the number of volunteers, many of whom walk the animals and provide enrichment time for them, has increased from about 135 to nearly 600. Since Jan. 1, more than 10,000 volunteer hours have been logged, he said.

Adam Ricci

Adam Ricci

Adam Ricci, chief of the department’s field operations, said the department averages about 30,000 calls for service each year – which include everything related to enforcing city ordinances pertaining to the care and treatment of animals, the impounding, handling and quarantining of domestic and wild animals, and investigating reports of animal cruelty.

Thanks to quick responses, the overall number of calls has decreased over the past six months. He attributed that to an increase in field officers from about a half-dozen to 22.

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