(Editor’s note: This is the second in a four-part series about the crisis at the Valencia County Animal Shelter. The series will include articles about successful adoptions, rescue group efforts, overcrowding and euthanasia rates and the ongoing struggle toward the solution.)
Ideally, every animal that comes into the Valencia County Animal Shelter would leave bound for a loving home with owners who will keep them until their dying day.
In 2018, only 28 percent of the animals taken into the shelter were adopted — 1,462 out of 5,136 — while 1,739 were transferred out of VCAS and 501 were reclaimed by their owners.
If the ideal cannot be met, there is a second line of defense — rescue groups and foster homes.
Shannon Brady is one of those second lines, taking in lone cats, pregnant females, nursing mothers with kittens and abandoned litters. She has gotten her family involved, spending hours bottle-feeding kittens, feeding the adults and gangly teens, changing litter boxes, administering vaccines and other medications.
There are notebooks filled with dates and schedules for when vaccinations were administered, when boosters are due, who can come out of quarantine.
Brady grew up with Nebraska barn cats and while working in Valencia County several years ago, she became aware of an animal hoarding case — more than 70 Pomeranian dogs were taken out of a home by Valencia County Animal Control officers in hazmat suits.
“I followed the case because I wondered, ‘What happens to all those animals?’ I found out there were a lot of volunteers and a lot of fosters,” Brady said.
After that case, Brady began volunteering with Bridges to Home, an Albuquerque foster-based group that strives to help the most vulnerable animals, such as neonates, special needs and those from underserved areas of the state.
She was able to foster some large dogs before they transitioned to a rescue, but life got busy and Brady found she didn’t have much time or room to foster.
About a year ago, she and her family moved back to Valencia County. One day she happened to see a post on the Volunteers of the Valencia County Animal Shelter Facebook page.
The cat’s back leg was broken, and she was on the list for animals to be euthanized that day. Brady decided to intervene in the hopes of nursing the cat back to health for adoption.
After two courses of antibiotics to fight off a respiratory infection, an amputation at the hip and finding out that “she” was actually a “he,” the cat won her over.
“I was a foster fail — 100 percent,” Brady said with a chuckle, referring to the phenomena when temporary foster care for animals becomes adoption and a life-long commitment.
She began working with Homeless Animal Rescue Team, an Albuquerque nonprofit that frequently rescues animals from the Valencia County Animal Shelter.
She’s had a few other “failures,” in the last months — a deaf, white cat and a blind kitten are now permanent residents.
“It’s constant chaos. I’ve gotten really good at taking care of sick kittens,” she said.
She’s also gotten good at burying dead kittens.
“That’s hard. That’s sad,” Brady said.
“I do this because I want to make a difference. I’ve been a member of this community for more than 20 years, either through my work or my husband’s work.”
Brady said HART provides a lot of basics such as litter and food, and funding for medical care, but there are always needs that go beyond their resources.
“So we have to rely on the community a lot,” she said. “I’m just so grateful we have people who are willing to do it, to help however they can.”
While Brady is a new addition to HART, president Lee Laney said the need for fosters is still there.
“We have never been a big group, but we have found homes for thousands of animals over the years,” Laney said. “To continue to do this, we are in dire need of new volunteers.
“Many members of our group including myself ... have been with HART for 20 years. We are losing members to age, illness and inability to keep up with the continuing large numbers of homeless pets in Valencia County.”
Laney said HART needs volunteers to help with weekly adoption events in Albuquerque and Los Lunas, as well as foster homes to help them rescue more animals.
Almost half of the organization’s older membership has fallen off, Laney said.
“There are those of us hanging in there,” he said. “These animals take a lot of care but we’re retired and have the time, but we need to get more volunteers for the adoption clinics. If we don’t have more folks we’re going to have to consolidate the adoptions, which means fewer pets who will find a home. We’re getting spread thin.”
To help support the thinning ranks, there’s a new animal welfare group in the county. Officially recognized as a nonprofit in May, All For Animals’ goal is to support the humane treatment and improve the health and general welfare of Valencia County homeless animals.
Run by Lee Matthews, Tia Jones and Albuquerque veterinarian Jen Keppers, AFA will fulfill its goal by collecting funds to support of spay, neuter, veterinary needs, reduce euthanasia, transport, and for other charitable or educational purposes.
“There was a woman who wanted to donate $5 to the shelter and I couldn’t, in good faith, tell her it would absolutely make it there,” Jones said. “Donations go to into the general fund and are put into the next year’s budget.”
So she, Matthews and Keppers decided to cut out the middle man and create an organization that could directly help the VCAS, municipal animal control departments and surrounding animal rescue organizations.
“We want people to trust we are going to do what we say. If you donate money and want it earmarked for a specific rescue, then it will go to that rescue,” Matthews said. “If you want to help fund spay and neuter events, then it will go there.”
Any overhead for the nonprofit, such as filing fees for the tax exempt status, T-shirts and hats with their logo, have been paid for personally by the founders.
“Donations aren’t used for those things; this is all for the animals,” Jones said.
AFA is currently gathering funds for three projects. The first is to supplement funds going to other organizations, such as the Spay and Neuter Coalition of New Mexico, in order to increase the number of spay and neuter procedures done in the county.
Matthews and Jones said municipal animal control officers have to handwrite notes in the field and do data entry into their computer system at a later time. To help interconnect the departments’ information, AFA is raising money to purchase five laptops for the officers to use in the field.
The final project is the purchase of a Wood lamp for the county animal shelter to detect ringworm on animals as they enter the shelter so treatment isn’t delayed.