Spring 2013 Magazine

Cover Story

Re-rescuing Marcos
Animal Village NM Goes the Extra Mile

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Sunny Aris and Nancy Berg shared a dream - to open a facility in southern New Mexico for the huge numbers of dogs and cats who are never adopted out of the area's animal control facilities and shelters. For many facilities, financial restrictions do not allow for abandoned or relinquished dogs and cats to stay forever. Such facilities have an adoption time limit. If an animal is not adopted by the end of that time, the dog or cat is euthanized. Thousands of wonderful, adoptable dogs and cats die simply because time ran out. The plight of the "death row" dogs and cats haunted the women and hardened their resolve to provide a safe haven for adoptable pets.

In 2010, Sunny and Nancy opened the doors of Animal Village New Mexico, a no-kill pet adoption center and animal welfare facility in Alamogordo. Nancy said, "Animal Village NM was a dream of mine from the time I was a little girl.I wanted to have an orphanage for animals." The dream to rescue friendly, adoptable death-row dogs and cats who have run out of time in NM shelters had become a reality. Animal Village NM is a testament to the women's vision. The rescue is a comprehensive facility with excellent standards of care. These include veterinary services, high quality nutrition, stringent adoption standards, post-adoption services like free training classes for puppies and dogs, and most importantly a lifetime commitment to every pet who comes through their doors. No one foresaw that a 7 lb. Chihuahua named Marcos would help Animal Village NM push the boundary of "lifetime commitment" to a new level.

Marcos arrived at Animal Village NM in January of 2012 from Alamogordo Animal Control. In a partnership with Animal Village NM, Animal Control brings adoptable animals who do not find homes within their allotted time to Animal Village NM where they can safely stay until they are adopted. Marcos was adopted by his new family in July 2012.

Despite the best efforts of shelters and rescues, not every adoption is successful. To protect pets, many rescues and shelters have contracts that every adopter must sign. One part of the contract requires that a pet that can no longer be taken care of by the adopter must be returned to the rescue/shelter. The adopter may not give the pet to a third party. The shelter or rescue can then place the returned pet into the best possible home. To provide for that potential outcome, all adopters at Animal Village NM sign a contract in which they agree to bring the adopted dog or cat back to Animal Village NM if for any reason the adoption fails. For Animal Village NM this is part of the lifetime commitment they make to their animals. In mid-September, in a post-adoption follow-up, Sunny called the person who had adopted Marcos to see how the little fellow was doing. Much to Sunny's shock, the adopter told her that she had just given Marcos away.

During the phone conversation, Sunny reminded the adopter about the contract. The adopter initially denied having signed one. Sunny promptly emailed a copy of the contract to her. The adopter next commented that it was "just a statement" and not a contract under NM law. The adopter did agree to contact the person to whom she had given Marcos, assuring Sunny that she knew the person well and she had a "wonderful home and yard."

Sunny persisted, keeping in contact with the adopter. Finally, the adopter admitted that she did not know the woman she gave Marcos to, the woman would not return her calls, nor would she open the door to her when she had gone there in person.

Sunny called the woman who had Marcos and offered her the opportunity to follow Animal Village NM's adoption process if she wanted to keep him. The woman was not cooperative. Just before she hung the phone up on Sunny, she said."take me to court," after which she ceased communicating with Animal Village NM staff. "I was hoping that with the assiduous efforts at communication we could get him back," said Sunny.

With communications cut off and concerns about Marcos growing, Animal Village NM filed a civil complaint for the return of Marcos in November 2012. On March 5, 2013, the case was heard in the Alamogordo Magistrate Court by Judge Gene Galassini. The defendant did not appear. The judgment was in favor of Animal Village NM. The judge notified the defendant by phone from the courtroom that Animal Village NM would arrive in 2 hours. Marcos was to be handed over immediately or she would face legal consequences.

By this time, Marcos had been in the home of the defendant for 6 months. When he returned to Animal Village NM his weight had more than doubled from 7 lb. to an unhealthy 16 lb. and his nails were an inch long. Clearly the concerns of Animal Village NM were confirmed. Marcos spent a few weeks at Animal Village NM for R & R, a healthy diet and a major pedicure. Fit and trim, Marcos went to his forever home where he is a healthy, happy and loved family companion.

The unique role that Animal Village NM plays in southeastern NM is a difficult but rewarding one. Keeping adoptable pets for as long as it takes to be adopted and making a lifetime commitment to ensure a safe and caring home for each animal is an expensive proposition. But Nancy and Sunny knew this from the onset, from the time they had that dream. Fund-raising is a constant and integral part of their work. Nancy says, "The financial struggles are great, but we believe that God wants this haven for His special creatures - and when we see a dog or cat go to a responsible, loving home, it's all worth it." Nowhere is that more apparent than with Marcos. Sunny's own words sum up their philosophy best. "At Animal Village NM, we never give up on our rescued hearts. Never."

If you would like more information or would like to donate to support the work of Animal Village NM, you can contact them at www.animalvillagenm.com or www.facebook.com/AnimalVillageNM.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is a writer and columnist for PETroglyphs and an author of children's books about dogs. She lives with her husband and her two canine companions, Gus and Hazel.

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