Alibi V.27 No.18 • May 3-9, 2018 

Editorial

The Animals of Albuquerque

Stories of desperation and hope from a place filled with both

dog
There are many pets waiting for their forever homes at the Animal Welfare Department

How humans treat the animals in their ken is a clear signal of the ethical bent of those who have dominion over other biological entities. That’s an overarching, perhaps even presumptive statement. But it surely goes along with the progressive politics that we continue to preach here at Weekly Alibi.

It goes along with our core belief that if a society fixes its infrastructure using local business as a catalyst; provides adequate shelter, medical care and food for citizens and then provides them with an education and professional opportunities that subsequently engender the agency necessary to move up the economic ladder, things will get better. A modest increase in the taxes paid by the wealthiest 15 percent of citizens could initiate and drive this process. The result will be a better society. Things will get better for the working and middle classes if we will it.

That’s because we have will power, a thing unknown in the animal kingdom, but an intrinsic human quality that leads to our stewardship of literally billions of lives. And we shouldn’t dismiss the importance or gravitas of how we treat the life and existence of animals within our cultural bounds. In fact like other progressive matters, we should embrace our responsibility and duty to ensure that, when possible, the business of animal husbandry, control and ultimately partnership should be handled ethically, transparently and with compassion for all parties involved.

Animal Control

The continuing controversies at Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department are clearly the result of years of dysfunction and conflict. Like many of the other social ills that voters called upon Tim Keller’s powers of intercession to settle and solve, this is one we trust the metal mayor will indeed make part of the past as we all—dogs and cats and ferrets included—march toward the future with democracy’s mandate in hand. A nationwide search for a permanent director continues.

The problems at Animal Welfare are complex and have been years in the making, as noted above. Specifically, the political appointees of Richard Berry have been identified by members of the press as the parties responsible for the discord and dysfunction at the city’s kennels.

Much of what occurred happened in the name of reducing euthanasia numbers, of providing live outcomes for shelter dogs and cats. On the face of that, such seems like a good idea. The thought of animals dying because some feel that we can only control through destruction of what we have ourselves created seems not only antiquated but distasteful enough to avoid.

That’s something administrators had in mind when they engaged in activities that breached department protocols and set individuals against each other. Ultimately though, those intentions, however noble, have left Keller and his team with a complex problem that deserves constant attention.

John Soladay, the interim department director who recently retired, noted that he faced challenges at the city’s shelters and was increasingly worried about the focus and time spent on rehabilitating non-adoptable dogs in order to avoid euthanizing them. Soladay reported that this happened to the detriment of more adoptable animals. There was a slight decline in death by euthanasia at the city’s facilities in February, he also noted. As long as the monthly figure is below 10 percent of the intake number, then the city shelters can continue to be categorized as “no-kill.”

The dysfunction goes deeper than such recent revelations. KOB-TV reported that former administrators had non-adoptable dogs shipped to Colorado rescue facilities that they maintained financial interest in 2015 and 2016. It was also revealed that at least one past Animal Welfare Director had breached protocols by allowing potentially dangerous dogs to be adopted to citizens in Albuquerque.

New Leadership Needed

This past week the city announced Soladay’s retirement and the advancement of acting Environmental Health Department director Danny Nevarez to helm the troubled shelters and their inner workings.

Nevarez says he will focus on lowering the department’s staggering vacancy rate, which currently stands at 38 percent. Besides this essential and practical matter, Nevarez, yet another administrator with little experience in the complex field of animal control and welfare (Soladay, a management expert, had been the director of the city’s Solid Waste Department, a horrible irony if one considers the place euthanized animals end up at in their sad journey away from humans) is seen as a stop gap measure that will maintain stability and forward momentum until a permanent director is brought on board.

It’s important to note the urgency of that last statement. In order for real progress to be made, a new director of the Animal Welfare Department needs to be found and brought to the table. This sense of importance and urgency has already been stated clearly and publicly.

As written by Lisa Jennings, the executive director of Animal Protection of New Mexico, “Albuquerque taxpayers expect that the permanent AWD director will be tasked with taking a professional and accountable approach to build on the progress made over the past decade. This includes: ensuring AWD has the professional staff, budget and resources to meet the city’s needs; dramatically expanding low-cost spay/neuter programs available for the area’s dogs and cats; improving the monitoring, accountability and success of the stray and feral cat trap-neuter-release program; addressing concerns over dangerous dog adoptions by strictly enforcing breed-neutral public safety policies; and ensuring the workplace culture fosters professionalism and empowers department employees to ensure the humane treatment of animals and protection of public safety.”

The recent revelations about the cruel and unnecessary deaths of 5 local dogs—first revealed as an outright crime, but now tragically augmented by the inclusion of possible malfeasance in the operation to find and rescue the doomed animals—makes the need to find an individual with credentials and vision even more time sensitive.

Adopt a Pet!

Now after all that foreboding and kvetching, don’t you think a tale of hope will also provide a path to what’s better, what should be and will be if citizen involvement has anything to do with it? Well, here goes.

I’ve been living in Albuquerque for most of my life. Most of the dogs and cats I’ve had as companions came from one of the shelters at the city of Albuquerque. Each one was memorable to me, each one is still dear. I adopted Arnold, an Alaskan Malamute there in 1990. He was the smartest, gentlest dog ever. Then there was Mookie, a 12-year-old pit bull that had been in the shelter for 4 months after being surrendered by her owner. Shy and somewhat damaged, Mookie became a fixture at our house, chasing birds and smelling the flowers in the garden for the five years that followed.

After Mookie died at home, a friend of mine who worked as a dedicated and compassionate volunteer at the shelter introduced me to Columbus, a 9-year-old deaf dalmatian that had been living in the shelter for five months. I renamed that dog Phranc and now he is bonded with my wife’s miniature pug, Hannah, a dog we literally found running down an arroyo on the Rez.

Briefly: If you really want to help, you know what to do. It’s your move, human.