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Governor shares first family’s losses

SANTA FE – The six months spanning last New Year’s Eve to the Fourth of July have been a time of loss for Gov. Susana Martinez and her husband, Chuck Franco.

The governor’s father, Jake, died after a long decline due to Alzheimer’s disease on Dec. 31.

In the months that followed, four of the governor’s six pets have died – all due to cancer.

Martinez sat in the living room of the private residence wing of the Governor’s Mansion this week, the patio doors open to the yard her dogs used to romp in, to talk about something that has nothing to do with state government and that cuts across political party lines: the difficult decision to put down a beloved pet.

Gov. Susana Martinez remembered her pets during an interview about having to make the decision to put them all to sleep in the past few months. (Dean Hanson/Journal)

Gov. Susana Martinez remembered her pets during an interview about having to make the decision to put them all to sleep in the past few months. (Dean Hanson/Journal)

If you’re a dog or a cat person, you know what it’s like to come home from the vet’s office to an empty house.

Martinez was a dog person before she was a cat person.

“When I met Chuck, I had a lab, a Dalmatian and an Alaskan malamute, and a king-sized bed, and all three of them slept with me,” she told me. “When we got married, I told him, you’ll have to figure this out.”

When those dogs died, Martinez and Franco picked out two Weimaraner puppies and later added Riggs, an Alaskan malamute, to their family.

But when she started collecting cats, she took to it. At one time, she had six strays living at her house in Las Cruces.

Shortly after Martinez was elected in November 2010, both of her gray Weimaraners, Sterling and Silver, were diagnosed with cancer.

Martinez noticed a lump on Sterling’s chest, Franco took them both in for a checkup and the vet diagnosed Sterling’s lump as breast cancer and found that Silver had cancer in her lungs and lymph nodes. Because the dogs were 12, the vet recommended against surgery and Martinez took them home, knowing their time was limited.

She and Franco kept their cats at the Las Cruces house but brought their three dogs to Santa Fe, knowing the Wiemaraners’ time was limited.

“The girls seemed to be OK. They slept a lot,” Martinez said. “They couldn’t run anymore. They couldn’t chase,” Martinez said, but they seemed happy to lounge in the yard, and on matching chaises in Martinez and Franco’s bedroom.

Meanwhile, Riggs, the malamute, was rehabbing from a knee surgery but otherwise young and healthy.

Two and a half months ago, her 14-year-old tabby cat Alexandra began dropping spatters of blood around the house. A trip to the vet revealed that cancer had invaded her mouth, and the recommendation was to have her euthanized.

Then four weeks ago, the Weimaraner Silver’s arthritis worsened to the point that she could barely walk, and Martinez and Franco took her to Dr. Robert Gruda, their vet in Santa Fe, and had her put down.

Within a week or so, Riggs started panting constantly and having trouble breathing, and Martinez took him in to see Gruda.

“The doctor came out and he said, ‘I just don’t know how to tell you.’ ” Martinez said. “He said, ‘He has cancer.’ ”

Riggs’ lung X-ray looked similar to Silver’s. He also had lung cancer.

“He went down within no time,” Martinez said. “Within a matter of weeks, he was having trouble breathing, panting, a complete decline. We could tell he was suffering.”

On July 3, Martinez was worried that Riggs might not make it comfortably through the long holiday weekend. Meanwhile, Sterling’s arthritis was worsening. She couldn’t get up on the sofas or on the chaise lounge in the bedroom, and her tumor had grown to the size of an orange.

“So,” Martinez said, “we just decided they should go together.”

Martinez and Franco met at Gruda Veterinary Hospital after work on July 3, got on the floor with the dogs and said their good-byes.

A person in politics today is expected to share parts of his or her personal life with the public, and Martinez and her husband have been open about their marriages and divorces and household habits – and their pets.

Their official 2012 Christmas card was a family portrait – with the first couple, Franco’s son, Martinez’s sister and all three dogs.

Well-wishers often ask Martinez about the dogs. By talking about their deaths in a newspaper piece, she said, she hoped she might avoid the question and the tears that come with the answer.

Martinez and Franco are spending this weekend in Las Cruces and hope to have all of the dogs’ cremated remains together so they can put them in a rose garden at their home.

Despite the pull to start getting on the computer and looking for puppies, Martinez said she and Franco are going to wait.

“It’s too soon,” she said.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.