New Mexico's Pet ResourceSUMMER 2006


UNSUNG HEROES

GERI ARON AND FRAN BENTLEY
by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.


Geri Aron and Fran and Travis Bentley

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Geri Aron and Fran Bentley have been friends for a long time. The two women and their husbands knew each other in Chicago before they all moved to the Land of Enchantment in the 1970s. The women were immediately appalled by the dire situation of many of the state’s companion animals. There were few shelters, the conditions were often deplorable and resources were scarce. Animals had no rights and few services were available to help and protect them. To address the inhumane conditions and treatment of animals, the women joined forces with a small group of other like-minded New Mexicans. In 1979 Geri and Fran were among the original members of one of the first animal advocacy organization in Santa Fe. As members of Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection, the women devoted their time and talents toward spay/neuter programs and the development of working relationships between animal advocates and veterinarians on this issue. Twenty-six years later, the former Sangre de Cristo Animal Protection, now known as Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM), is the strongest statewide animal advocacy organization in New Mexico.

Lisa Jennings, executive director of APNM, said, “Geri and Fran were standing up for New Mexico’s animals at a time when animals had very few advocates. They forged the way for many others to take up the torch of animal protection.”

In their personal mission to assist in the care and well-being of companion animals, Geri and Fran direct the Veterinary Medical Aid Program through Animal Alliance in Santa Fe. The program provides partial financial assistance in paying emergency veterinary expenses for injured and sick companion animals in the greater Santa Fe area. The program is limited to low income, elderly, handicapped and homeless applicants who are not able to manage unexpected veterinary expenses for their pets. Funding is not granted for maintenance medical care such as rabies vaccines or spay/neuter. Applicants are expected to contribute part of the veterinary costs. Referrals to the program come from shelters, individuals and veterinarians.

Geri and Fran assess each request according to the age of the animal, prognosis of the injury or illness for successful resolution, and how responsible the animal’s family is in the overall care of the pet. The recipients are usually, but not limited to, dogs and cats, and the major medical need served is serious injury. Hundreds of awards have been granted through this program, and hundreds of animals have been helped. There is no typical case. A dog with a face full of porcupine quills needing removal, a kitten abandoned in a restaurant parking lot with injured vertebrae, a dog shot through both “elbows” by an unknown assailant are the types of cases Geri and Fran deal with on a daily basis.

With as much cruelty and suffering as Geri and Fran have seen in over a quarter of a century working on behalf of New Mexico’s animals, the women have seen many changes for the better. Geri remembers the poor conditions of the state’s few shelters. She appreciates that most of them have greatly improved, and that the number of shelters has increased. She is also encouraged by the increase in all types of animal advocacy. Fran sees a quantum leap in the understanding and interest in the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. For Fran, another positive step toward alleviating animal suffering is the mainstreaming of spay/neuter as a major way to combat pet overpopulation.

Geri Aron and Fran Bentley are advocates, role models and proof that individuals make a difference – in their case, a huge difference. With compassion and tenacity, Geri and Fran have stood up for New Mexico’s animals whenever and wherever there has been a need. Brava!

If you meet the criteria for the Veterinary Medical Aid Program and wish to contact the program, please leave a message at 505-982-9920 or 505-438-0738.


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