THE GREAT COLORADO DOG CARAVAN
by Nancy Marano with photos by Debbra Coleman
New Mexico is overrun with unwanted dogs. Many adoptable dogs are killed every day because there isn’t enough kennel space for the new dogs who arrive at the shelters daily.
The general wisdom is that pet overpopulation can and will be solved through massive spay/neuter campaigns and educational efforts to convince people to stop breeding their pets. This solution certainly is correct from a long-term perspective. But that doesn’t help the animals who are already here, the ones who are being killed for lack of homes or kennel space.
Kennel workers aren’t at fault for the euthanasia solution that has been forced on municipal, and many private, shelters. No one wants to come to work and kill healthy dogs and cats. Blame must lie squarely with the community and the prevailing attitude that animals are disposable. To help ease the overcrowding problem, some people are trying alternative methods to help save as many death-row dogs as possible.
There are cities, primarily in the Northeast and Northwest, where they have such successful spay/neuter, licensing, and education programs that they actually do have a shortage of dogs available for adoption. The same is true for many cities in Colorado.
Since there are some places with shortages of adoptable animals and other places with an overabundance of animals, it seems reasonable to start a transport system that moves dogs from one place to another. The transporting of dogs has become a beacon of hope for many shelters where supply far exceeds demand. However, while this solution is wonderful for the dogs who are chosen to get a second chance, there are questions about this type of program in general.
Before a shelter decides to solve its problems by shipping dogs to another state or municipality, there are some questions that need be asked.
1. Are the transport practices safe?
2. Are the animals who are being transferred too young?
3 Are adoptable puppies being removed from local shelters while leaving more undesirable dogs there?
4. Does the receiving shelter follow good spay/neuter practices?
5. Are the transported animals in good health or do they bring disease with them?
6. Are the animals being sold to research facilities?
7. Is money and time being used for the road trips at the expense of programs to benefit people and animals in the local community?
These are legitimate concerns that can be solved by establishing procedures and guidelines between individual shelters that share common goals.
Debbra Coleman, Westside Shelter
Transfer programs are not new to New Mexico. Shelters in Las Vegas, Taos, and Española have been successfully exporting dogs to Colorado for several years. Now Albuquerque and Valencia County are joining the pack.
The numbers tell the tale. Albuquerque’s City shelters take in nearly 24,000 dogs and cats a year. Almost two-thirds of them are killed. If you add to that the number of animals killed in other city and county shelters throughout New Mexico, the total is staggering. In Valencia County alone 71% of the animals brought to the shelter are killed.
Since February 2003, Albuquerque has sent dogs from the City shelters to The Dumb Friends League and Mile High Humane Society in Denver, as well as the Boulder Valley Humane Society.
In January of 2003, Elise Van Arsdale, a private rescuer in Placitas, took some dogs to the Dumb Friends League in Denver. On her return she told Debbra Coleman that the Denver shelter could take more dogs. She put Coleman in touch with Kathy McClanahan, a representative of Colorado’s All Breed Rescue Network.
“Kathy said we needed to provide the transportation, select the dogs, and get them to Colorado,” said Coleman. Seventeen dogs from the City’s West Side shelter were chosen for the first trip.
“It was so difficult picking which dogs would go,” Coleman said. “Dogs at the shelter are euthanized based on how long they’ve been there, whether they are ill, or if they have behavior problems. In the end we chose healthy dogs who had been at the facility longest. We also took the biggest dogs, because there is more demand here for small dogs, and we took some puppies. The Denver shelters requested that the dogs be healthy, non-aggressive and five-years-old or younger.”
In July, 2003, No More Homeless Pets took over the program, and their representatives selected the dogs for transfer. In March, 2004 it became a City-sponsored program.
“The City saw it as a successful program that fit into their stated policy to reduce the euthanasia rate in Albuquerque,” Coleman said. “Now kennel workers choose the dogs. City workers volunteer to drive the dogs to Colorado in City-owned vans designed to carry animals.”
Since the program started, 300 dogs have gone to the Dumb Friends League and 550 to other Colorado shelters. The dogs are evaluated for temperament and given a health exam in Colorado. Those that pass are spayed or neutered, microchipped, and put up for adoption.
About 13% of the dogs have been euthanized in Colorado, and six of them failed either the temperament or health exam. The cost to transport one dog is about $30.
“I believe these dogs have guardian angels watching over them to give them another chance at life,” Coleman said. There are no real down sides to this program. The only limiting factor is that the Colorado shelters we work with don’t take animals between May and July because their kennels are full.” The Valencia County Shelter in Los Lunas sends puppies to the Brighton Puppy Lifeline in Brighton, Colorado. Dianne Channell, a math teacher at Santa Fe High School and a volunteer driver, is enthusiastic about the program. She and some fellow teachers meet the Los Lunas van in Santa Fe, take the puppies, clean them up, put them in their own crates, and drive them to Brighton. “We transported about 200 puppies during the summer and fall because Brighton doesn’t take any puppies in the winter,” she said. Valencia County has no money budgeted for vaccines or veterinary care so occasionally Brighton refuses to take the puppies for health reasons. “These dogs come to us loaded with ticks. They are stinky, skinny, dirty, and occasionally have parvo or coccidia. The puppies become infected in the shelter because of crowded conditions. The faster we can get them out of the shelter, the less likely they are to be diseased. We make heroic efforts to stem the tide of disease when we transport, and provide medical care when necessary,” Channell said. “Whoever thinks we are just taking the most adoptable dogs and leaving the others to die isn’t looking at the vast numbers of homeless dogs and puppies,” she continued. “Even if we’d moved many times more than we did, there would still be thousands of dogs left. This is an important program because it carries the unspoken message that these dogs are worth the effort and killing them is just plain wrong.” This transport is an all-volunteer operation. For the people doing it, the reward is seeing the dogs get another chance at life. “This is the most fun in the entire universe,” Channell exclaimed.
According to Judy Babcock, Director of Quixote Humane, the Valencia County Shelter has no official role in this operation beyond giving permission to take the puppies out.
“We briefly stopped the transfers because we had questions about the conditions at Brighton and whether the animals were being spayed and neutered. However, we decided to resume operations because it is a life and death situation here. We either take the puppies out or they’ll die,” Babcock said.
Transfer programs obviously help the chosen dogs to find homes. They reduce the euthanasia rate at the participating shelter and help boost staff morale. But communities must be willing to confront the real question of why so many animals are turning up at the shelter in the first place. Programs need to be instituted to solve pet overpopulation through education, aggressive spay and neuter programs, and strict enforcement of licensing laws. Until such measures are undertaken on a large scale, transfer programs, no matter how good they make us feel, will remain a stop gap measure.
Friends of Rescued Animals (FRA)
General Delivery, Ilfeld 87538
(505) 421-2744 email@example.com
Albuquerque Cat Action Team (ACAT) P.O. Box 51683, Albuquerque 87181
(505) 323-2228 www.albcat.com
Pick of the Pound
P.O. Box 2702, Los Lunas 87031
Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society
1920 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe 87505
(505) 983-4309 firstname.lastname@example.org
New Mexico Greyhound Connection--Candy or Jerry Beck
7220 Cascade Rd. NW, Albuquerque 87114
(505) 897-0427 email@example.com
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