Saving sheltered animals

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Local teenagers were out on Los Lunas Main Street Saturday, with hand-painted signs asking for donations and encouraging people to adopt pets from the Valencia County Animal Shelter.

The group are members of Youth Development, Inc.-Valencia teen outreach and volunteer for community service.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia County teens Danielle Wheat, left, and Rose McClellan, right, volunteer to raise money to transport unwanted pets from the Valencia County Animal Shelter to no-kill shelters in Colorado and Utah.

Teen Outreach is an after-school program developed by YDI-Valencia, a youth development organization. The program promotes healthy behaviors, leadership and service work, said Devon Caldarera, YDI social services educator. The program is open to all teenagers.

“It’s really encouraged that they reach a consensus and come up with their own service-learning ideas,” said Caldarera. “Once we were asked to do an adoption at Walmart, they wanted to do more, so a lot of it comes from them.”

The kids are worried about the fate of hundreds of dogs and cats that end up at the animal shelter each week. Many of the discarded pets will be euthanized if they are not adopted.

Since last spring, the teens have been volunteering once a month to raise money to transport unwanted dogs and cats to no-kill facilities in Colorado and Utah, said Caldarera. So far, they have raised close to $2,000, and saved more than 3,000 animals.

“When the shelter gets overloaded, they have to kill them to make more room,” said Valencia High School sophomore Danielle Wheat. “We are saving money to take them to a no-kill shelter to save their lives.”

Some of the participants in the Teen Outreach program have gone through YDI-Valencia’s Teen Court, a first-offender program. Young people in trouble for petty crimes are tried by a jury of their peers and judged by an adult at the 13th Judicial District Courthouse. It works on the principle of restorative justice. The youth restore the imbalance caused by their mistakes, by doing something helpful.

Many choose to join Teen Outreach.

“For both Teen Outreach and the Teen Court, community service is a very important component,” Caldarera said. “It’s cool to see how excited they get, knowing that what they’re doing — out there asking for donations, holding up posters — that they’re saving lives.”

Studies have shown there is a connection between substance abuse, domestic violence and animal abuse, said Amber Chavez, YDI lead prevention specialist. The fundraiser attempts to raise awareness about these issues, she said.

“If you have struggle in your life, it’s not good to get a pet,” said Wheat. “It will cause more trouble … if you’re barely surviving, you put (your pet) at risk, too.”

About 125 to 175 animals are taken in to the animal shelter each week, said James White, animal control intake off-site coordinator.

“Out of that, at least 50 to 60 percent are the owners turning their animals in to us,” said White. “We’re getting over 70 percent of the animals that we get out alive — to rescues or adoptions.”

The shelter has rescued animals up for adoption every day of the week at the new PetSense on Main Street in Los Lunas, he said.

“They built kennels inside for us so the animals don’t have to be outside,” he said.

Petsense does not receive any money for the service.

“Kittens and puppies are a lot of work,” said 16-year-old Rose McClellan. “You have to potty train them, and when they get old enough, you have to spay them and make sure they don’t have puppies and kittens that you can’t take care of.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.