Spring 2010 Magazine
New Director for Albuquerque Animal Welfare
December 1, 2009 marked the day Barbara Bruin began her job as director of the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department. This job comes with heartaches and headaches. For a compassionate person the heartaches come from the number of homeless animals euthanized every year - 10,347 in 2009. The headaches stem from trying to provide for animals, staff, volunteers and programs within a budget which will be severely cut this year. City departments are facing a $50 million dollar shortfall in this year's budget.
Bruin's background is in public administration and law. A native of Roswell, NM, she graduated from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and the UNM Law School then practiced law in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. While she's never directed an animal shelter, she is an animal lover and is familiar with New Mexico's animal issues. On her return to Albuquerque she served as a volunteer and then a board member of Animal Humane New Mexico (AHA). She still serves on the New Mexico Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force.
Now that she's had some time to adjust to her new job PETroglyphs spoke with her about the challenges the shelters face and her goals for the Animal Welfare department.
PETroglyphs: What are your priorities for the shelters? What do you think needs to be improved or changed?
Bruin: "My top priority is increased spays and neuters in the city. I don't think we'll end the suffering and death unless we end the animal overpopulation. It was wonderful that the Mayor recently held a press conference about the necessity for spay and neuter. All of the rescue groups involved in spay and neuter efforts were there as a group to underscore the importance of this.
Next I want to see more humane sheltering of the animals in the shelters. This means improving the way we care for them while they are with us. We need to make the animals more comfortable and happy while they are here and make more information about the animals available to the public.
We need to get more animals adopted. In order to do this, we must improve the user friendliness of our shelters.
I want to see an improved cattery at the Eastside shelter. The way the cages are now looks like we're putting the cats into microwave ovens. I'm told only four out of 100 cats is reclaimed. We need to do something about this."
PETroglyphs: The previous administration made live exit a goal for the shelters. Do you plan to continue that goal and, if so, how do you plan to achieve it?
Bruin: "This is really an animal-friendly community which is why I think we can do a lot better than we have in the past. We keep animals as long as they are healthy and happy. We have a review date for each animal but there isn't a particular date when they must be adopted or be euthanized. We had one pit bull who'd been here since October. He was finally adopted in December after we sent him to Lucky Paws. A lot of animals who are tough cases or who have special needs get adopted from Lucky Paws." (See http://www.petroglyphsnm.org/newsletters/winter_2009/lucky_paws_new_look.html for more information on Lucky Paws.)
PETroglyphs: Do you plan to work with community rescue groups to get animals adopted?
Bruin: "We've come to the conclusion that there are only a set number of homes so we may not get more adopted. We would like to work with all the rescue groups to have them take animals out of our shelters. They may be able to get them adopted in different venues than we use. This is especially true for cat rescue groups. Cats don't do well at the shelter. They just don't get out alive. This is due partly to disease, partly to the fact that people rarely reclaim lost cats, and partly because cats don't show well in shelter situations.
I'm saying to the rescue groups, 'Take our animals, please. Get them out of here.' Cats need to leave the shelter quickly because of the chance of disease and dogs lose heart when they stay in the kennel too long.
Any rescue group that would like to work with us that isn't currently doing so should contact me and we'll see what we can arrange."
PETroglyphs: How do you plan to increase the number of spays and neuters in order to fight animal overpopulation?
Bruin: "The Mayor's Ball this year is called 'Let's Fix The Problem.' The proceeds from this fundraiser will be used for spay/neuter efforts.
We want to increase our capacity to do spay/neuter surgery for the pets of low-income Albuquerque residents. When I started here, I inherited a list of 800 people who had signed up to have their animal spayed or neutered. We are working on cutting that list down. We are joining with other groups to accomplish this. AHA has space available for spay and neuter surgeries in their low-income clinic which we can use. Individual veterinarians and various rescue groups are working with us on this, too. Our spay/neuter van is parked at the Westside shelter where our veterinarian spends one day a week doing spays and neuters for outside animals. We cannot mix the outside animals with the shelter animals because of the possibility of disease."
PETroglyphs: Do the shelters need volunteers? If so, what do you need them to do?
Bruin: "Dr. Vigil, one of our veterinarians, is ramping up the foster program. We are already in kitten season. Every day more and more kittens are brought in who need fostering. Sometimes we get mother cats with their kittens. It is vital that these animals get fostered and socialized so they are ready for adoption. Anyone interested in fostering animals for the shelters should contact me. Prospective fosters need to fill out an application and talk with Dr. Vigil.
We hoped to hire a volunteer coordinator but that is impossible with the budget cuts. At the moment we have a volunteer doing the job. We are looking for people to walk dogs, cuddle cats and work at adoption events. A lot of our volunteer jobs involve interacting with the animals so their time at the shelter is more bearable. Volunteers also help socialize the animals.
Kennel Kompadres runs a humane education program in the elementary schools. They could use volunteers to expand the program. The person would need to have time during the day to take their animal, usually a dog or cat, with them to the school and present programs for various grade levels. This is an excellent program that helps children interact with animals in a humane way."
PETroglyphs: Will you continue the practices of the previous administration when it comes to infection control and sterile practices?
Bruin: "Definitely. These programs will be continued and re-emphasized because it is necessary to contain and prevent disease. We still lose too many cats to respiratory disease."
PETroglyphs: Can you tell us about the Eastside renovation? When will it be completed and what improvements can we expect to see?
Bruin: "I am being told the renovation will be done in June. I hope that's correct. There will be a better adoption lobby with more clerks to serve the public. We will also have an improved cattery so the cats will be healthier, happier and show to a better advantage. The Tammy Bemis Memorial Clinic will be dedicated to spay/neuter surgeries."
PETroglyphs: What animals do you have at home?
Bruin: "When I began this job, I had two silver tabbies named Frank and Tony. On my fourth day of work I took a silver tabby kitten named Joyce home to foster. Now I am adopting her and she goes for her spay surgery tomorrow. I look at her as my signing bonus. We've been calling her 'Baby Joyce' but I may change her name to Charlotte. The boys get along with her very well. The staff was afraid I would continue taking animals home but I think she's my limit."
Petroglyphs: Thank you for your time. Good luck running the shelters.
Bruin: I hope we see improvements soon.
OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP
1. If you work with a rescue group that would like to take shelter animals for adoption or if you would like to volunteer at the shelter, please call Barbara Bruin at 505-764-1123. She wants to talk with you.
2. If you want to donate to either the spay/neuter efforts or to upgrading the cages in the cattery, please send your check to: Kennel Kompadres, 139 Palacio, Corrales, NM 87048 and specify how the money is to be used.