New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL 2005


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By Nancy Marano

Adoption Center lobby is bright and inviting

Finding an architect with knowledge of animal shelter design whose ideas match your own is not easy. Kate Rindy had definite ideas about making the new shelter the best possible for the animals, her staff and the community. Following a thorough search process, Rindy and the board selected Animal Arts in Boulder, CO to create the design.

Larry Gates, the lead architect, has been designing veterinary clinics and animal shelters for more than 20 years. According to him, the basic requirements for an animal shelter are to keep the animals healthy and safe and keep the staff safe.

“In the case of Santa Fe, we’ve really gone beyond that. This is a pretty animal-centric facility in that we’ve done everything we can to balance the practical requirements of the shelter with trying to reduce the stress on the animals,” Gates said. “Santa Fe has broken some new ground in animal shelter design.”

Animal shelter design has undergone many changes in the last 60-70 years. At first, all the dogs were thrown in a pen with the hope that some would survive. Then single housing became the norm. Practical reasons dictated this change. Animals are safer and there is less disease transmission, but despite the safety of single housing it is stressful for dogs. Dogs are social animals with a deep need for companionship. In the last few years animal shelters have learned that the possibility of disease transmission caused by putting animals together is countered by the lowered stress levels. Disease levels remained about the same and the dogs were happier.

Standard shelters have concrete runs, clanking gates and lots of noise. Larry Gates is opposed to this concept. “Our feeling is that those things teach animals all the wrong behaviors. They teach them to bark, fence fight, eliminate in their own space, and in general, negate all the training that the dogs get in their lives,” he said. “We try to create enclosures that are more comfortable for them, give them a sense of physical safety and a place to hide,” he said.

Adoption Center (foreground) and animal care building


Rindy and Gates agreed on basic goals for the new shelter. They wanted to redefine what a shelter is all about. “We wanted it to be a community resource center for animals rather than a dog pound. It needed to be a place people would come not only to adopt animals, but where animal-centered people could come to enjoy one another and the animals. We wanted to dispel the dog pound image and replace it with a warm, caring place for animals,” Gates explained.

The first thing people will notice at the new shelter is the difference in size. “We’ve gone from 8,000 sq. ft. to 30,000 sq. ft. This is important because of what we’ll be able to do for the animals,” Rindy said. “It will allow us to care for the animals in a much broader way.”

The new shelter at 100 Caja del Rio sits on 100 acres. Phase I of the shelter plan includes the animal care building and the adoption center. The animal hospital, which will be situated between these areas, will be completed in Phase II. Next to the adoption center will be the dog training center, which will also house humane education programs. Rindy’s hope is that humane education will have a new presence in northern New Mexico. On the 100-acre site are many hiking trails that school groups and the public will be able to use. On the north end of the facility is Challenge New Mexico, which specializes in rehabilitative horseback riding.

“We are trying to create an atmosphere that will invite people to come in. They may want to adopt or they may just want to visit the animals. Our long-term goal is to have many children and adults come out to interact with the animals,” Rindy said.

One donor underwrote a grooming room. Local groomers are being asked to volunteer their services to teach the staff and public how to groom animals.

The shelter has received another grant for training volunteers, and a certified dog trainer has been hired to help make pets more adoptable. There also will be a pet therapy class.

“We wondered why so many adult animals from six months to three years of age were being returned to the shelter. We found that usually it was because of behavioral problems. We hope that the dog trainer will help stop this,” Rindy said.

Spacious cat colony room


The cat area is special. Instead of tiny, barred cages stacked on top of each other, the cats are housed in cat colonies. Cats are separated from dogs by the 40 foot adoption center so they will not be disturbed by the barking.

“Cats are more difficult to house than dogs because they get sick more easily. Also, stress tends to make cats sick. We wanted to design a space that displayed the cats well but minimized the disease transmission and stress. There are six cat colony rooms that have glass from the 3½ foot level up. Each colony has climbing furniture, food bowls, beds and other kitty comforts. This arrangement allows people to view the cats,” Gates said. “For the cats that need to be individually housed or the cat condos, the cages have a Plexiglas® front that is in a sealed cube. Once you close the door all of the circulated air is pulled through each one of the cages and circulated out so you don’t get the transference of disease.”

The cats can also spend time on the fenced-in porches in the adoption center and intake area. These changes to the cat environment allow people to watch the cats interact so they can assess their personalities better.


“Kate pushed to have the facility designed the way it really should be designed. She didn’t tolerate changes that would have compromised what we were doing for the animals. Her primary questions on anything were, ‘What’s best for the animals, what’s best for my staff, how do we do this the right way?’ Everyone has constraints, but Kate just didn’t recognize her constraints,” Gates said. The beautiful new shelter is testament to her tenacity and vision.

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.

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