NO MORE HOMELESS PETS: CAN IT REALLY HAPPEN?
Text by Freddi Hetler and photo by Joyce Fay
A new year and a new century. A time for new ideas and goal setting. One idea sweeping America calls for an end to homeless pets, by assuring that every adoptable animal has a home. What began as a small movement is now attracting the public's attention. Several cities nationwide and even one state have set this goal for themselves. But what is New Mexico doing?
In November 1999, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary of Kanab, UT, the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the U.S., held conferences in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Those interested in finding solutions to the homeless pet problem were invited, and most Northern New Mexico shelters and rescue groups sent representatives. The purpose was to connect to others who had the same focus, to share ideas and resources, and create plans to reach the goal of no more homeless pets.
Success in reducing the unwanted pet population comes when the community works together to increase adoptions and access to spay/neuter programs. By reducing the number of pets abandoned to shelters or turned loose on streets, the number of animals euthanized decreases. The number of pets destroyed in 1987 was seventeen million. Today it is five million. According to Bonney Brown of Best Friends, this success is due to grass roots initiative, not from intervention by major organizations like the Humane Society.
People's Anti-Cruelty Association (PACA) of Albuquerque held a meeting last November for anyone interested in discussing solutions. Those in attendance included PACA, Animal Humane Association (AHA), Homeless Animal Rescue Team (HART), Animal Protection of New Mexico, Albuquerque Animal Services, and the Animal Control Departments of Rio Rancho and Bernalillo Counties. Their meeting concluded with a plan to begin finding homes for all adoptable animals. Secondly, they will address finding homes for animals needing medical treatment. As a coalition, they will carry more weight than individual groups. Their meeting on January 13th at the Animal Humane Association in Albuquerque was to discuss short and long-term goals.
Helga Schimkat, of Animal Protection of New Mexico, says her group will assist the coalition with legal advice and grant writing, allowing the smaller rescue groups to continue their hands-on work with the animals. Says Schimkat, "Eventually this coalition will branch out from Albuquerque to the rest of the state to help other groups."
Rather than idly waiting for the coalition to come to them, shelter and rescue groups elsewhere are strengthening humane education, spay/neuter and adoption programs. Most groups in New Mexico have education programs that stress animal care and lifetime commitment to a pet. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society has volunteers who go to schools to speak with children. In addition, they have adoption coordinators who assist people in making good pet choices for their lifestyles. "This cuts down the number of animals that come back to us," says coordinator Evelyn Gregory. Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary in Pojoaque invites children to visit their facility. Both the Santa Fe Shelter and Heart and Soul Sanctuary will be moving to new sites that will include larger areas for humane education. Heart and Soul plans to put in a bunkhouse so that children can stay overnight. In Las Vegas, The Animal Support Center provides community volunteers with on-the-job training at the shelter. The Humane Society of Taos reaches out not only to schools, but to civic and church groups as well. Several groups throughout New Mexico, including Safe Haven in Las Cruces, distribute newsletters to the public.
Many shelters are already aggressive in their spay/neuter programs — no animal leaves without being neutered. For people needing help paying for the service, free or reduced rates are offered. It is usually a cooperative effort between the owner, shelter and area veterinarians. PACA's "Neuter-Scooter Program" is aimed at the easiest to neuter: male cats. The cost to the owner is just five cents. The program is administered by the City of Albuquerque and funded by PACA and AHA. Pecos Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has received grant money for their spay/neuter program and a van to transport the animals. They offer the service at a reduced fee. Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary recently had a RV donated that is outfitted as a mobile spay/neuter clinic to travel to the Eight Northern Pueblos to perform the services at no charge.
To free up shelter space, rescue groups have foster programs where animals live with foster families until adopted. Northern New Mexico Animal Protection Society in Española has a "Last Chance" foster program for animals recuperating from illness or injuries. This shelter sponsors mobile outreach adoptions at different sites, where pets are brought for people to see. Many shelters send their dogs and cats to other states where adoptable animals are needed. The Flying Puppies Program operated by Northern New Mexico Animal Protection Society flies their surplus mixed breeds out of state.
Combined, these achievements and programs are a big step towards attaining the goal of no more homeless pets. Together, we can show that New Mexico is contributing to a worthy cause and success nationwide.
Freddi Hetler lives southeast of Santa Fe with her husband, five dogs and four cats. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society and Eldorado Fire and Rescue.
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