For years, Debbra Colman worked long hours as the executive project director for the Historic District Improvement Company, dedicating her career to Albuquerque's downtown revitalization efforts. Once the downtown Century Theaters complex was finished in 2003, she planned on taking a year off to travel and recover from years of exhaustive overtime. Then she went to the city's East Side animal shelter to retrieve a lost pet for a friend and her travel plans were abruptly put on hold.
Colman had never been to the facility, but became so concerned about the crowded conditions, understaffed office and ineffective customer service that she contacted the mayor's office and asked for a job. Beginning in the fall of 2003, she became employed by the city, working on a one-year contract that paid her $1. In exchange for her full-time devotion, she was given full access to city Animal Services facilities in an effort to review all policies and procedures. She discovered that each of the city's two animal shelters employ four kennel workers responsible for feeding and cleaning an average of 250 animals per day, and checking in an average of 80 animals per day, which includes getting them vaccinated, tagged and housed. In addition, the staff was responsible for euthanizing approximately 80 to 100 animals per day and serving the folks walking in to adopt pets (when they didn't leave after waiting around for hours). She set out to increase adoption rates by improving customer service and restructuring staff duties to increase overall efficiency. She convinced the city to place an ad in the Pets section of the Yellow Pages, calling the shelter “Albuquerque's Largest Pet Store,” instead of just listing the shelter in the government pages. She renamed the Animal Services Division, calling it Albuquerque Animal Care Center.
Since her contract expired a few months ago, Colman continued to work with the city for free, putting in countless hours with Council staff to produce a new animal ordinance that is expected to be voted on sometime next year. She also founded a new organization, Alliance for Albuquerque Animals, in hopes of increasing spay and neuter awareness for pet owners, eradicating animal cruelty and decreasing the number of animals euthanized by the city each year (which stands at approximately 27,000 per year).
Unfortunately, Albuquerque's animal shelters see one of the highest rates of unspayed and unnuetered animals in the country—about 80 percent—said Colman, compared to Los Angeles, which sees about a 20 percent rate. However, with the commitment of folks like Colman, our record on animal welfare and responsible pet ownership is finally heading in the right direction. (TM)