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By Councillor Bill Woldman

Our Animal Friendly Village?

After several meetings over the past three years with the Village Administrator and the Police Chief, at the February meeting of the Village Council, I suggested purchasing a set of dog runs for Animal Services. I proposed this as an alternative to the current inadequate and unsafe concrete holding cells that have been created in the Old Fire Station for stray dogs. It seems to me, at that point, the wheels came off the car. I want to explain what that means, but I first want to go back in time, about 20 years.

In 1998, my wife, Barbara Bayer and I had moved to Corrales, encouraged by the sign notifying people that this was an animal friendly village. We had fled the North Valley and neighbors who did not want barking dogs in their little townhome enclave.

Barbara went to Corrales Kennel to look over the facility to see if we might use them to board our dogs when we had to travel for our business. It was at that time that she met Dan, the owner, and learned that the kennel housed Animal Services animals until their stray hold was up and they were transported to the Albuquerque shelter to be euthanized. Barbara started taking cats into our home and we started paying to board Corrales dogs so they wouldn’t be killed. That led to the formation of CARMA (Companion Animal Rescue and Medical Assistance) at which point Barbara told Dan and Animal Services that CARMA would take every animal once it was available, which in effect ended the contract with Albuquerque to euthanize animals.

There were many ups and downs in those early days as she and CARMA struggled with Animal Services Officers that didn’t care about animals, with many discussions about why a particular dog or cat should be given a chance. The effort to educate those who would not be educated is always challenging.

That changed when Frosty joined the Village as the Animal Services Officer. As a former police officer, he had the respect of his police colleagues and was given the authority to do what was necessary to do his job. I watched Frosty change as he was influenced by this village of dedicated rescue people who lent their efforts to help him save the lives of our village animals. Fundamentally, he liked animals, but he was also smart enough to realize he could work with the community to both save lives and save the Village money previously being spent on euthanizing animals.

He set up a contract with Corrales Kennel to hold runs for Animal Services, understanding that sometimes those runs would be empty, but also realizing that many times they would be over-filled, such as during holidays and during the peak breeding season in the spring through the early fall.

During his time in the Village, Frosty embodied all the best of Animal Services departments around the nation. He worked to adopt or foster out animals once their stray hold was up and he worked with rescue groups and triaged animals to them. Once the no-kill ordinance was introduced and passed by the Village Council, he made certain that animals leaving the village were protected and required, if an animal turned out not to be suitable, that animal had to be returned to the Village.

That is the genesis of the unwillingness to trust Animal Humane because they took a dog from Frosty that he evaluated as adoptable, and they ended up euthanizing him in direct violation of the commitment to return him to the Village. This is not urban legend, this happened.

Much has happened since Frosty retired. The rescue groups have continued to work with Catherine and Brya, two women to whom Frosty trusted to hand off his legacy. But their ability to do their job, to find fosters and adopters and to work with rescue groups has been seriously curtailed recently, and particularly since I suggested purchasing those runs. It was my intention, when I discussed using some of the funds we have access to, to set up dog runs so that our Animal Services Officers could more humanely house dogs awaiting the end of their stray hold. The current concrete cells do not have proper heating and ventilation or drains to aid cleaning. They are neither bright nor friendly for an animal that is frightened. Neither of the two cells would meet minimum standards for humanely housing animals.

The dog runs I have proposed for Animal Services are not intended to be a shelter, but this administration has used this request for dog runs as a way to undo all the progress we have made toward being an “Animal Friendly Village.” The citizens of the village care deeply about their companion animals and when situations occur and Animal Services needs to get involved, they want to provide the best care in these temporary situations.

So it is that in these final days of this administration, I understand that rescue groups cannot be given animals from Corrales Animal Services because they are not certified (no one knows what that means) and that the Village only has a contract with Animal Humane to take our animals (Animal Humane is paid to do that; rescue groups generally are not). Is Animal Services certified? Who did that?

The Village policy has now become that once the three-day stray hold is up, animals must be removed from the Village immediately. As far as I can tell, that also means the Animal Services Officers are no longer allowed to foster or adopt out animals since that might require them to hold on to animals more than three days in order to do the placement. This new policy assumes that when the Village has an animal, Animal Humane will automatically take that animal without question. So, what happens if no rescue groups are allowed to help and Animal Humane will not or cannot take an animal? What then?

Some of you may not be aware, but in February, 2021 there was a hoarding situation in which there were 65 animals that had to be removed from a home in the village. Individuals and rescue groups stepped up to help our Animal Services Officers and all the animals were placed within a few days. Does anyone think Animal Humane is able to absorb so many animals into their group, many of which needed extensive medical and emotional care?

This is not the first time Animal Services has had to deal with hoarding situations or a large number of animals in need of rescue. Every summer and fall, large numbers of cats and kittens and dogs and puppies find their way into Animal Services. When this is happening in Corrales, it is happening everywhere else, including Animal Humane. How can they be depended upon to take Corrales animals?

When I suggested adding humane runs to Animal Services, I had no idea the unintended consequence would be a draconian effort to send all our stray animals out of the village in order to show that runs aren’t needed to temporarily hold Village animals. In the final analysis, the chaos that has occurred (and make no mistake, it is chaos) has shown a fundamental flaw in the ability of the Police Department to understand and support a village that values and loves its animals. The Corrales Police Department does an excellent job of protecting the citizens of this village. But animal services is not a priority to them.

The Fire Department currently is responsible for all the large animal issues. I propose placing Animal Services under the Fire Department. Putting all Village animals, large and small, under one umbrella rationalizes animal care, makes training easier, and creates a department that addresses animal services as a community service, not a policing issue.

We need to be supporting our Animal Services Officers. I will be proposing a small working group to work with Animal Services to address refinement of the policies under which they operate to enhance their ability to do their jobs. This working group will be asked to report to the Villaage Council on a regular basis.

In the final analysis, the Village Council has the responsibility to see that our Village runs smoothly, and it is my hope that our new mayor will join us in the effort to provide a better understanding of what our citizens want when it comes to animals, both large and small.

For that reason, I am asking everyone to discuss with your Village Councillor your support for our Animal Services Officers as they work to find the best solution for the village animals in their care. There will be opportunities, in the near future, to voice your concerns publicly about how we can do things better to once again be an “Animal Friendly Village.”

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