The Dog days
New regional animal shelter to address overcrowding

A puppy gazes out from a holding cage at the Farmington Animal Shelter on Monday. A San Juan Regional Animal Shelter is currently in the works to help address the nearly 9,000 animals that go homeless in Northern New Mexico each year./Photo by Steve Eginoire

by Jen Reeder

More than 35 years ago, Farmington resident Betty Berry saw an urgent need for a better animal shelter in the city. Berry and her daughter went to adopt a puppy and fell in love with terrier mix “Baby June.” But Berry had trouble sleeping after witnessing the conditions at the shelter.

“It was deplorable – it was done up with pig fencing, not much better than chicken wire, and old crates. We saw a Pekingese with a frozen tongue. I could not sleep knowing the rest of those animals were in that situation,” Berry says. “The euthanasia rate was way too high. They were shooting and gassing the animals.”

So Berry and some friends organized the San Juan Animal League and marched on City Hall to demand a larger, upgraded animal shelter in Farmington.

“We did march on City Hall, and we had a glorious time. I still consider that one of my finest hours,” Berry recalls. “They rose to the occasion, I’m very proud of our city. They always do rise to the occasion.”

Years later, Berry sees an urgent need for another upgraded shelter, and is hoping the city will once again rise to the occasion. The current Farmington Animal Shelter doesn’t have enough space for the large number of animals brought in. It receives an average of 25 new animals each day, but with only 54 kennels to house them, the shelter must euthanize an average of 19 animals every day.

The answer: the proposed San Juan Regional Animal Shelter. State appropriations were used toward preliminary design work for the shelter, which would strive to be a “green” facility that is LEED certified and situated on 10 acres of BLM land north of the County Detention Center on Andrea Drive. The area would allow for future expansion and encourage higher adoption rates – the current shelter is wedged between the OMI Waste Water Treatment Plant and Four Corners Power Plant. But the hefty price tag has local officials scrambling to reduce costs before this year’s budget deliberations.

“That’s the $7.6 million question: can we move forward here?” says Bob Campbell, assistant city manager of Farmington. “The state isn’t in a position to make appropriations.”

Campbell hopes that if the cost is reduced to $5 million, the city will consider a bond issue to fund the project. Cost-cutting measures considered in an April 27 meeting included changes to the type of construction, site selection closer to town (so that there is no need to add infrastructure such as roads and water lines), simplifying the interior design and decreasing the size by 25 percent but maintaining the same capacity for dogs, cats and puppies.

Ken Collins, who handles public relations and marketing for the City of Farmington Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, says he hopes the revised plan will keep as many energy-efficient aspects as possible, though the main focus is increasing adoption rates.

“The population around here has drastically increased over the past 30 some odd years, and now we’re supporting the county as well – over half of our animals come from the county,” Collins says. “We take in around 8,500 animals a year. With those big intake numbers, trying to find the space for them doesn’t work out too well.”

Shelter employee Virginia Jim holds a pair of puppies that are available for adoption in Farmington./Photo by Steve Eginoire

The shelter added a spay and neuter clinic in the past few years, a modified doublewide trailer that will be moved to the new shelter if and when it is built. The practice of sterilizing pets before they are adopted, as well as legislation that outlawed sidewalk sales of dogs and cats in the city and county, has helped reduce the intake and dropped the euthanasia rate.

While the city has been working to reduce costs for the proposed shelter, a group of citizens formed the nonprofit Pet Project to help raise funds. Money has poured in from various community sources, including $220 from 13-year-old Brynn Culander, who asked friends and family to make a donation to the shelter instead of buying her gifts for her birthday; $5,000 from a Lion’s Club pancake breakfast on Groundhog Day; and nearly $30,000 from friends and family of deceased local icon Jimmy Drake, making donations to the shelter in lieu of flowers when he died.

So far, the community has raised about $150,000 toward the $5 million goal.

“Everyone’s trying to help,” says Joyce Donald, a member of the Pet Project. “It’s something that’s so badly needed.”

Donald says the proposed shelter would not only help animals but people – part of the plan is to collaborate with the San Juan County Detention Center and Juvenile Program, local schools, and the Navajo Nation. Getting kids interested in helping animals is a great prospect for the future, she says.

“To teach children how to care for those animals … maybe then they could go out and get jobs that would be a lot better. The whole idea of kids learning another profession or another way of life, I think that would be a wonderful thing to do,” she says.

Phil Morin, co-chair of the Pet Project, hopes the cost reductions will help get the proposed shelter approved this year.

“Even in the best of times, it’s still an expensive project,” he says.

Morin rescued his border collie Roz from the current shelter and hopes others will do the same while the project is developed since it will take years (and already has).

The proposed San Juan Regional Animal Shelter also has support in Durango. Anna Anderson, executive director of Annie’s Orphans, Durango’s no-kill animal shelter, says the bigger shelter in Farmington won’t affect adoption rates in Durango. In regards to the overall Four Corners population, she says it will “give really good adoptable dogs” a little more time to find homes.

“My thought on that is, if it saves a life, do it,” Anderson says.

“The bottom line is the dogs and saving their little innocent lives. They didn’t ask to be in this situation. They didn’t ask to be thrown away. I for one hope they get it going, and that they’ll work with us.” •

Donations to the proposed San Juan Regional Animal Shelter can be sent to: Regional Animal Shelter, Attn: Ken Collins, 901 Fairgrounds Road, Farmington, N.M. 87401. Donations are tax deductible.



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