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KATE RINDY: VOICE OF COMPASSIONBy Nancy Marano
Kate (2nd from left) at Open House for new shelter
A tangible reminder of Kate Rindy’s 10 years as Executive Director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society (SFAS&HS) will be the new shelter she planned. While the building is important, perhaps just as important are the intangible reminders she will leave behind with friends, co-workers, and animal people throughout northern New Mexico.
Her most important messages for animal people are first, to have a sense of compassion not only for animals but for people, too, and second, to recognize the necessity for animal groups to work together if the animals are going to benefit.
The first time I met Rindy and heard her speak was at an animal conference. She talked about the connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence. What impressed me most was the compassion she had for the animals, the human victims, and even the perpetrators of the crimes. Since then, I have interviewed her many times, and the need for compassion and understanding of other people is always uppermost in her mind.
“I think the challenge is always how you reach those people who don’t understand the responsibilities of having an animal and how you help them in a compassionate way. I’m always sad when people in this field bring harsh judgment, when we separate ourselves from others, point a finger and say, ‘they.’ The challenge is to get to ‘we,’” Rindy said.
Puppy gets TLC in real-life dog room
Working with animals was a natural choice for Rindy. “As a child, I had a dog that was not only my best friend but integral to my life. I grew up in an abusive home so my dog was very important to me. I’m trying to give back what animals have given to me,” she said.
Following a stint as an animal control officer in Tallahassee, FL, she ran the Grand Forks Humane Society in North Dakota. After a year there, she began working for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as director of overpopulation issues. When the director of the SFAS&HS left, Rindy was asked to take over.
“I decided to come to Santa Fe because I thought the people would have the interest and resources to make a difference on behalf of animals and I wanted to get back to working at the local level,” Rindy said.
Initially her objective was to listen to the community. “Generally, I wanted to be about progressive ideas in terms of animal shelters,” Rindy said. “I’ve tried to involve the community in understanding the problems of the animal shelter. ”
Rindy is pleased the euthanasia rate has dropped by 20% for puppies and kittens during her tenure. “We see the effects of the spay/neuter programs we’ve been doing for 10 years. When I came here, we were taking in 7,000 animals per year. By last year it was about 6,000,” Rindy said. “The decrease is due in part to spaying and neutering and in part to helping people get and keep the right companion animal. About three years ago, we began temperament testing for all animals before they go into adoption. This was an important milestone. It’s not just about placing as many animals as you can anywhere. It’s about people staying with their animals.”
Rindy believes that groups need to learn to work together for the benefit of the animals. “The ‘no-kill’ terminology has been divisive. It pushed everyone to be more proactive in what they do for animals but it doesn’t help in the long run,” she said.
She believes that it is essential to work within the community to help animals. “A lot of people in this work say, ‘I love animals, it’s people I can’t stand.’ If your passion is for the animals, but you really feel anger at people, I understand that, but it’s very hard to make a difference then. If organizations and people focus only on the animals, they can’t solve the problems. The only way animal issues are going to be solved is through the people in the community where the problem is.”
Rindy’s list of achievements stretches far beyond the borders of Santa Fe. By using her ability to get the community involved with animal issues, she has changed the way many people in northern New Mexico relate to animals.
In her quest to broaden the mission of the shelter into being more than a place to warehouse animals until they were placed or euthanized, she encouraged the board to change the name of the shelter by adding “& Humane Society “ to “Santa Fe Animal Shelter”, making it Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.
She was instrumental in getting a full-time veterinarian at the shelter to spay, neuter, and vaccinate both impounded animals and those of less affluent residents. She broadened the approach to pet overpopulation by having spay/neuter clinics open to the public, and by the purchase of a spay/neuter van to reach rural areas where people don’t always have the resources for pet care. She hired a humane educator to do outreach in the Santa Fe schools teaching children how to relate to animals. Rindy has also been in the forefront of legislative battles for laws that would provide more humane treatment for animals. The number of shelter volunteers has grown under her tenure as have the number of foster homes for animals awaiting adoption.
Michele Rokke, former Animal Control/Law Enforcement Program Director with Animal Protection of New Mexico, who has worked with Rindy in many capacities since 1998, talks of Rindy’s achievements. “Kate has given the community an awareness of animals that wasn’t here before. She has been adamant in letting people know that animal shelters provide a service for the community’s animals, but that the community needs to be part of the solution because shelters can’t do it alone. She has shed crucial light on the link between human violence and animal cruelty; she has supported changes to the city animal ordinance that are helping to decrease the number of unwanted animals; and she has implemented shelter programs and policies that reflect a commitment to resolving issues in the long-term rather than taking the easy way out.”
Rindy received national attention during the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000. She kept the shelter open 24 hours a day, helped mobilize rescue teams to retrieve animals left in homes, got permission to set up shelters on the rodeo grounds, brought in assistance from the Animal Planet van, HSUS, the American Humane Association, and other New Mexico shelters. She also gathered a cadre of volunteers who worked round the clock caring for animals.
Remembering the chaos surrounding the fire, Rindy said, “I saw the initial terror in the eyes of incoming animals, yet two nights later they were totally different animals because so many people took pains to talk to them, soothe them, and make them comfortable. Not one animal died or had to be euthanized while in our care. It was a miracle. Watching the reunions made me realize this is what we’re here for. It’s why we do the work we do.”
Running an animal shelter is a heartbreaking business. It begs the question of how anyone can keep doing it day after day and not succumb to the pain that assaults the eyes and heart daily.
“I love people and I believe in the goodness of people. I experience it every single day. Because I have that, it really helps me in the harder times when I’m looking at the neglect, and the surplus, and an animal who is cruelly treated,” Rindy said. “I am brought to my knees on a weekly, if not a daily, basis by the pain of this work. I’ve had to learn to translate the pain and anger into love and compassion. You have to learn to do that for others.”
Rindy will leave New Mexico for Massachusetts and a well deserved rest. She will take time off from shelter work while she relaxes with her partner, Penny, and their dogs. She may also go back to school to pick up where she left off so many years ago.
“Continuing sound policies that reflect wholly humane ideology will best reflect Kate’s beliefs and honor her input to the new shelter. I think we’ll realize our good fortune in having had her with us for as long as we did. Her presence will continue to be in the work we all do for the animals in New Mexico,” Michele Rokke said.
The value of both the animal and human residents of the state has been raised by Rindy’s vision of compassion and tolerance. This is Kate Rindy’s true legacy.Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.