City’s animal shelters earn ‘no-kill’ status

Danny Nevarez, director of the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, gets some love from shelter dog Luna, a 14-week-old female Labrador-border collie mix. The city's two animal shelters are now classified as "no-kill" facilities. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)
Danny Nevarez, director of the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, gets some love from shelter dog Luna, a 14-week-old female Labrador-border collie mix. The city’s two animal shelters are now classified as “no-kill” facilities. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The city’s Animal Welfare Department this week announced that its two animal shelters have a “save rate” of just over 90%, earning the facilities a “no-kill” status.

The save rate is the annual percentage of total intakes minus shelter-related deaths, which include both euthanized animals and animals that died in the care of shelters, Animal Welfare Department Director Danny Nevarez said Tuesday.

Euthanasia was reduced 10.2% in fiscal year 2019 over the previous year, and the number of animals that died while in the care of city shelters was reduced 15.9%. “Reclaims” were up by 8%. Reclaims are counted when a lost animal is reclaimed at a shelter, as well as when and animal is located through its microchip.

The improved rates are “not because of a decline in animal intakes, which were actually up a bit,” Nevarez said, adding that 15,619 animals were received at the two shelters. Of that total, 1,276 were euthanized. In 2018, 14,936 animals were received and 1,361 were euthanized.

The rates improved because of a “shared vision” among employees at the Animal Welfare Department and because employees identified “areas where we can make a difference,” he said.

Eighteen-month-old Eternity Archibeque points to a cat available for adoption at the Eastside Animal Shelter. The city's two shelters have achieved a "no-kill" status, meaning they have a "save rate" of 90% or better. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)
Eighteen-month-old Eternity Archibeque points to a cat available for adoption at the Eastside Animal Shelter. The city’s two shelters have achieved a “no-kill” status, meaning they have a “save rate” of 90% or better. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

One of those areas has been outsourcing of the spay-neuter program, which has increased the shelters’ medical capacity. Previously, shelter veterinarians performed 3,000 to 4,000 surgeries on animals that were brought in by residents, Nevarez said. Now the shelter provides vouchers that owners can take to participating veterinary clinics that have opted into the pricing structure and are reimbursed by the city.

The outsourcing frees the shelter veterinarians to focus on the homeless and often sick animals in their care, Nevarez said. Shelter veterinarians in fiscal year 2019 performed 25% more specialized surgeries on sick and injured animals than during the previous year.

Also, giving pet owners vouchers for spay and neuter procedures eliminates the need for an otherwise healthy animal to enter a shelter environment, where pets can be exposed to disease. Disease control is yet another factor in the department’s improving statistics.

“In the last four or five years, we have lost 400 dogs to parvo,” he said. “Disease is not born in shelter; it is introduced into shelters by animals that have not been vaccinated.”

Unfortunately, Nevarez said, “about 70% of all pets that come through our door have not been spayed or neutered, and in most cases they have not been vaccinated or microchipped.” With few exceptions, those animals must undergo those procedures before they are allowed to leave the shelter, he said.

The department is also conducting monthly free microchipping events at the two shelters, forgoing the regular $15 service fee, he said.

Intake prevention is another way to improve outcomes. Toward that end, the Animal Welfare Department has recently ordered a mobile clinic, essentially a large van that will be dispatched to communities around the city, particularly in underserved areas, where pet owners can have their animals vaccinated and microchipped, and where “as much as we can, provide free spay and neuter vouchers,” Nevarez said.

Finally, the department is supporting a proposed change to the animal control ordinance to remove the requirement that all pet owners purchase a yearly license and replace it with a microchipping requirement.

“For as many decades as we’ve been doing licensing, we have an 80% noncompliance rate,” Nevarez said. “We’ve been issuing citations for a $6 license that nobody was getting, plus we were taking our officers out of the field and creating a ton of overhead for the program itself.”

And the program was not cheap, he said. The city has been paying a Texas company $326,000 a year to administer it. With the money saved by doing away with licenses, “we can microchip, spay, neuter and vaccinate more animals.”

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