A forever home for the holidays - Albuquerque Journal

A forever home for the holidays

Jisel Romero, left, shelter manager at Española Humane, lets a dog named Aaron visit Bryce Killion, an adoption coordinator in the shelter’s office. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

When Ruckus finally got adopted from the Española Humane Animal Shelter on Dec. 21, it was a big deal.

A 70-pound dog bubbling with personality, he had been at the shelter since September and was having a difficult time getting adopted. Most dogs wait only a couple of weeks before being adopted and a long stay at the shelter can have dramatic effects on their personality.

So, when a family did adopt him, it was an emotional experience for the shelter’s small staff.

“They can’t languish,” Executive Director Bridget Lindquist said. “We got to keep them moving.”

The goal of servicing and finding forever homes for dozens of homeless cats and dogs hasn’t gotten easier during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought new challenges to rescue shelters across northern New Mexico.

One of the main impacts for smaller shelters has been on transfers.

Mattie Allen, director of communications at Española Humane, feeds a 2-week-old puppy. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Shelters report they’re not seeing a huge influx of pet owners having to surrender their animals because of financial stress caused by the pandemic, partially because of various assistance efforts launched this year.

Murad Kirdar, public relations officer for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, said that, in rare cases, people have decided to give up their animals for good, sometimes because COVID-19 has brought new economic challenges.

“People are just saying that they can’t find work and they can’t afford the animal any more,” Kirdar said. “When people decide they’re ready to give up the pet, you really can’t talk them back into it.”

But, during the pandemic, that’s what shelter employees are attempting to do. Many have food banks for cats and dogs, where pet owners can pick up food if they can’t afford it on their own.

Cesar Mares, right, a veter () ^^^^^^^^^^^ inary tech at Española Humane, tends to dogs and cats on the “beach.” where animals are placed after surgery to recover. ( Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Pet Amigos, a program launched by Española Humane, has workers go door-to-door to ask pet owners what types of assistance they need, be it food, medical or something else.

The goal, shelter directors say, is to keep the animal in the home.

“There aren’t constraints about what kind of aid we can extend,” Lindquist said. “We’re doing everything we can to help the animals in need.”

But even with reduced intakes of dogs and cats, some shelters are still seeing lots of animals.

Buttercup is one of dozens of cats and dogs up for adoption at Española Humane, the only shelter in Rio Arriba County. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The number of sheltered animals in New Mexico has historically exceeded the number of available homes. As a result, shelters typically transfer many of their animals to Colorado, where demand is much higher. But restrictions on out-of-state travel have limited the number of transfers, meaning shelters need to keep them for longer.

“We typically transfer out 600 pets a year,” Española Humane Director of Communications Mattie Allen said. “This year, we’ve transferred out 240.”

Larger shelters, such as in Santa Fe, have been able to take in some animals from different parts of state, but not as much as many shelters are used to.

And shelters are seeing the reemergence of a long-standing problem – animals not being spayed or neutered.

Vet Tom Parker spays and neuters dogs and cats at Española Humane. The surgeries are also available to animals throughout the community. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Spay and neuter clinics were not initially considered essential under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s first stay-at-home order, so clinics went weeks before performing any more surgeries.

Months later, even after clinics have reopened, some shelters say they’re seeing more puppies and kittens than usual.

“We have been getting boxes and boxes of puppies being found in dumpsters and parking lots,” said Donna Karr, executive director of Stray Hearts Animal Shelter in Taos.

Some shelters have subsequently beefed up their foster programs so more dogs can wait for a home outside an isolated kennel.

What’s made up for that, though, is a large increase in adoptions, shelter employees report, even as many families struggle due to the pandemic.

Will is one of dozens of dogs and cats up for adoption at Española Humane. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Shelters report people have become more eager to adopt as more begin working from home full-time, allowing them more time to devote to an animal. But there’s also the companionship that an animal brings.

“People are struggling with feeling disconnected,” Allen said. “Pets help bring some comfort to their lives.”

Most shelters are conducting adoptions by appointment only.

Those shelter officials interviewed said that, despite a consistent rate of adoptions, many still need financial assistance during the pandemic. Resale stores, which generate revenue for local shelters, have seen reduced incomes or have had to close altogether.

“Lockdown has really hit us hard financially,” Kirdar said. “We’re constantly playing catch up.”

Shelters are requesting people donate food, towels and blankets, and contribute funds if possible.

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