New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2007

by Nancy Marano

For years we’ve decried the high numbers of animals euthanized at animal shelters nationwide. Sterilization and euthanasia figures are inextricably linked. Fix one and automatically lower the other.

Animal People, an investigative animal newspaper, tracks the best available numbers for current national euthanasia rates. It is evident the numbers are declining.

1970 – 23.4 million

1985 – 17.8 million

2004 – 4.9 million

Is this happening in New Mexico too, and what services are provided to encourage people to sterilize their companion animals here? We have surveyed different areas of the state to see what people are doing to increase sterilization and decrease euthanasia rates.

New Mexico has always ranked near the bottom on any animal euthanasia rate chart, but now it is getting aboard the spay-and-neuter bandwagon. Increased sterilization is a health benefit since there are fewer stray animals to bite people or cause disease. It is also cost saving as fewer animals need to be caught, housed and euthanized at animal shelters. Prevention is always cheaper than the alternative.

When the Saving Animals Across Borders spay and neuter program begins in the near future, it will be the only statewide spay and neuter van service. Funded by an allocation in the state budget, it will assist all of New Mexico’s counties. The idea is to spend as much time as needed in a location. This will be in addition to programs already operating in various areas.

Viki Elkey, program manager for the City of Albuquerque’s mobile spay/neuter clinic, believes the outlook here is encouraging. “Legislators are not just talking about animal issues any more, they are doing things to help. I think this is happening now because of an accumulated weight of years of work by animal advocates talking about the problems of pet overpopulation. Legislators have the message that it is cheaper to spay and neuter than to house and kill animals on the other end.”


Eva Paloheimo directs Animal Services Assistance Program (ASAP), which services San Miguel County. She also works with Las Vegas Cats, a group that spays and neuters feral cats.

In 2005 and 2006 ASAP had the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society (SFASHS) van come to Bernal. Now ASAP has another grant for spay/neuter but they can’t get the van. In the winter the van needs to be in a heated space. While she has found locations suitable for the van, they can’t be used because they are committed to other activities. Meanwhile, Paloheimo keeps lists of names and hopes for a time when she can schedule the animals’ surgeries.

“I think the community needs to get involved in the concept of spay and neuter. We had one young man help us who was very interested in animals. The vets even let him assist where he could. Some of his friends, who were very skeptical of the whole thing, came to observe and comment. He just kept working and telling them how cool it was. After that, several of the others asked whether they could help,” Paloheimo said. “Something like that builds trust in the community.”

She believes people’s attitudes toward animals need to be changed through educational programs in the schools to teach children to value animals.


The Gallup-McKinley County Humane Society faces similar problems, as it services a rural, low-income population. Sonia Fitzpatrick, the shelter director, says, “The public needs to be made more aware that unaltered cats and dogs in a community lead to high euthanasia rates in the shelter. It is cause and effect. Our euthanasia rate is over 60% even though we work on getting animals adopted.”

A low-cost spay/neuter clinic is now open in the shelter every Wednesday. Prior to this they offered coupons several times a year that clients could use at local veterinary offices. They also use spay/neuter vans when they can. The clinic hasn’t been open long enough for her to detect a decrease in animal intake numbers or lower euthanasia rates.

“Spay/neuter is our top priority,” Fitzpatrick says. “All shelter animals are spayed or neutered prior to release for adoption.”

San Juan County, which includes Farmington and Aztec, has only two continuously operating animal shelters to serve an animal population estimated at 100,000, according to Kristen Langenfeld of the San Juan Animal League. Both shelters are starting pre-adoption sterilization programs to decrease the number of animals that come through the doors.

Farmington and Aztec work with various rescue groups to get animals out of the shelters and give them a chance at adoption. Tina Roper, Aztec shelter director, says they sent 375 animals to rescues in 2006 and they hope to raise the number to 500 this year.


Bob Hearn, Director of Doña Ana County Humane Society in Las Cruces, faces difficulties associated with servicing a city and a large rural area. There are wild and stray animals picked up in the county and owner surrenders in the city. Together they are more animals than the shelter can handle. While they perform almost 4,000 sterilizations per year, they would need to do at least 10,000 before they started to see a difference in the euthanasia rate, which currently is 70%. Several low-cost spay/neuter programs also operate in the area. Without substantial leadership and aid from local government, including money and increased educational programs to change attitudes, more animals will be killed.


Compared to most of the state, Albuquerque is in an enviable position. The HEART (Humane and Ethical Animal Rules and Treatment) ordinance, which was passed last year, mandates spaying and neutering of all animals unless they are used for breeding. Although the ordinance only applies to the city, the shelters take in animals from Bernalillo County and the surrounding area. The Mayor and business community actively promote adoptions and there is a vibrant educational program in the elementary schools on responsible pet ownership. This gives Albuquerque a chance to alter its previously dreadful image to the brighter reality of a live-exit city.

In 2006 Albuquerque’s intake was 30,000 animals. Thirteen thousand, or 43%, were euthanized. Although still high, this is a large drop in euthanasia rates which once were close to 60%. Mandatory spaying and neutering doesn’t go into effect until April 10, 2007, so they don’t know how this will affect the numbers.

“Responsibility for spay and neuter programs rests with the communities,” says Denise Wilcox, associate director of Animal Services. “Each community needs to decide what works for them and do it.”

Currently, no adopted dog or cat leaves the shelter without being sterilized. The new Albuquerque spay/neuter van sterilizes the companion cats and dogs of senior and low-income city residents. These services are free to anyone who meets the requirements. The van travels throughout the city but targets those areas with the most need. Van locations are posted on the city’s website ( and appointments may be scheduled by calling the 311 hotline or (505) 768-2000.

Adoptions are also a high priority. Dukes, Mayor Chavez’s dog, appears at press conferences to remind people to adopt homeless animals. The business community is supportive too. Several restaurants put tent cards on the tables with the picture of an animal and an appropriate slogan to get people to go the shelters. According to Anna Sanchez, Marketing Director for the shelters, 155 animals have been adopted through this program. Off-site adoptions take place every weekend and a new off-site adoption store is open in Coronado Mall. Another will open in Cottonwood Mall by the end of the year.

Hopefully these efforts will result in more animals going out the front doors of the shelters instead of the back door.

New Mexico has a lot of work to do before spay and neuter programs begin to show a substantial difference in the euthanasia rates. The good news is that progress is being made. Governor Richardson budgeted $3.6 million dollars for animal protection this year. Mayor Chavez constantly raises animal issues in various venues and has been cited nationally for some of Albuquerque’s programs.

Stumbling blocks to sterilizing animals and lowering euthanasia rates remain. Many people still don’t place a high value on animals and don’t think sterilization is necessary. The only solution to this is education and more education about the responsibility of pet ownership and the benefits of sterilizing companion animals. The other obstacle is money. Municipalities need to understand it is far cheaper to sterilize animals than it is to kill them. This means they must help people with the costs of spaying and neutering their animals and provide convenient locations to have the sterilizations done.

Once the leadership of cities, towns and rural communities makes this commitment a priority, New Mexico will go to the top of the chart of states with the lowest euthanasia rates instead of being near the bottom of yet another list.

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