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City looks to ‘Empty the Shelter’


Volunteer Michelle Prien walks a dog Thursday afternoon at the Eastside Animal Shelter. Nearly 800 pets are in city shelters. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

There is “no more room at the inn.”

The Animal Welfare Department is approaching capacity with nearly 800 pets at city shelters – and more than 800 in foster homes – and is waiving adoption fees in hopes of finding forever homes.

The “Empty the Shelter” adoption drive is being held from Saturday through July 3 at the Westside Shelter, Eastside Shelter and Everyday Adoption Center in PetSmart at Eubank and Interstate 40.

Each adoption will come with a free nail trimming coupon and, for dogs, one free training class.

“We really hope to see a huge interest in adopting from our shelters because all of these pets deserve loving families and forever homes,” said Carolyn Ortega, Animal Welfare director.

She said AWD has about 785 pets in their shelters. At this time in 2019, the number was 789. Although Ortega said they have a capacity of 1,100 pets she said the current capacity “puts a lot of strain and pressure” on the shelter and pets.

“We want to make sure we keep those numbers down and our adoptions rates higher,” Ortega said. She said they have animals of all types and sizes available for adoption, including “tons” of puppies, kittens and “more mellow” older animals.

Ortega said – contrary to popular belief – there isn’t a flood of pets being returned to shelters post-COVID, and the current capacity numbers match up with 2019.

She said the number of adoptions has remained the same over that time period but intakes went up by 13%, or 351 animals.

The increase has led AWD to place more than 816 pets in foster homes right now, up from 520 in 2019. She said, thankfully, they have also increased the number of foster homes for animals, from 403 in 2019 to 608.

Ortega said 75% of their fosters end up adopted and foster homes are “more conducive” to the pet’s growth, health and ability to “show what they’re really like in a home environment.”


Volunteer Pam Cody, right, watches as Stevonna Sanchez gets acquainted with a cat at the Eastside Animal Shelter. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Ortega said post-COVID they are seeing a troubling decrease in owners claiming strays that come into the shelter.

As a result, AWD is waiving its “reclaim fee” and encouraging owners to secure their yards and make sure their pets are microchipped.

She said the large number of pets has taken a toll on shelter staff as AWD battles a worker shortage.

“It’s not out of the ordinary for our staff to be overwhelmed during this time, it’s kind of the normal course of the year,” Ortega said. The city currently has 22 vacancies – from animal handlers to field officers.

AWD is in the process of hiring 10 staff members and eight temps and Ortega said she hopes to have zero vacancies by 2022.

In the meantime, she said anyone interested in working with animals or who loves animals should apply at the city’s website or volunteer.

“We are always looking for good people that are very passionate about what we do, with the understanding that it can be very emotional,” Ortega said.

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