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By Andrew Oxford/The Taos News
Claiming its current financial situation is untenable and local governments are not doing enough to address animal welfare issues that have packed its facility beyond capacity, the board of Stray Hearts Animal Shelter said Monday (July 27) the organization will no longer accept dogs or cats.
Seventeen staff will be terminated and the shelter’s front office operating hours will be cut back to between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. as well as by appointment, as part of a plan to drastically reduce services, the nonprofit’s board announced.
Executive Director Harvey Yocum said animals at the shelter will still be cared for but the nonprofit cannot continue to accept dogs and cats while being paid at its current rates by local governments, which he said was too little to cover operating expenses.
Local law enforcement officials indicated the announcement came as a surprise and county officials said they were not provided any advance notice.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe and Taos Police Dept. Chief David Weaver said that with Stray Hearts no longer accepting dogs or cats, there is no place for animal control officers to take animals they collect.
Both said they will search for at least a temporary alternative.
Taos County Manager Stephen Archuleta said Monday afternoon he was shocked by the announcement, arguing the shelter was in violation of its contract with the county governments.
"I do think it's a political move," he said.
County officials have been exploring options to provide more funding to the shelter, including a tax, according to Archuleta. Meanwhile, town officials have considered providing land for construction of a new shelter that might allow it to move out of the nonprofit's mortgaged facility, he added.
"If they're trying to strong-arm money from the town and the county, this is not the way to go about it," Archuleta said.
Intakes at Stray Hearts have increased 150 percent this year over last, according to Yocum.
Stray Hearts was housing 119 dogs Sunday (July 26) despite having capacity for only 80, he said. The shelter was also housing 78 cats and kittens despite having capacity for only 60.
“We are not going back to the way it was,” Yocum said, referring to the shelter’s brush with state regulators last year.
When Yocum was tapped as executive director in November and a new board took over the nonprofit, it was emerging from a year of internal political tumult that included its veterinarian having his license suspended and board members resigning en masse.
An inspection by state authorities in November went poorly, Yocum said, and almost led to the shelter being closed altogether.
But as the animal welfare community appears to have moved on from the feud that led to the departure of Yocum’s predecessor, the shelter has been seen as improving conditions for its dogs and cats.
The nonprofit’s leadership laments, though, that the town and county governments continue to pay too little for the services it is contracted to provide as a shelter.
The organization has a monthly operating budget of $57,000 but only receives a total of $20,000 each month through its contracts with the town and county, which pay $8,000 and $12,000 respectively, according to Yocum.
The town and county governments have contracted with Stray Hearts since 2004 but the shelter has only seen its payments increase by a total of $1,000 in that time though capacity has increased and costs have risen, Yocum said.
“Our donors have made it very clear that they are unwilling to continue to pay for the legal obligations of the town and county,” Yocum said. “For seven months, I have been working with the town and county governments to develop an equitable contract structure without success.”
In a presentation regarding extension of the shelter’s contract with the town of Taos at a council meeting July 15, Yocum cautioned that the as-of-then fruitless discussions with local officials had prompted the nonprofit’s leadership to reexamine whether it could continue to operate.
The council voted to extend the contract by six months and issue a new request for proposals, which would allow municipal officials to draft a new agreement with Stray Hearts.
But Yocum said in announcing the cuts that there had been little progress.
Yocum also expressed concern during the July 15 town council meeting that a new county animal ordinance expected to be approved in early August will prompt more local residents to dump dogs and cats on the street.
Provisions in the draft ordinance include requirements that domestic animals be licensed and microchipped, all at costs Yocum said many local residents will not choose to pay.
Archuleta did not dispute the ordinance may prompt a short-term spike in local residents dumping animals but maintained it would lead to a reduction in the stray animal population over time.
"It's a little alarming to hear [Yocum] making these allegations when he was involved in the drafting of that ordinance," Archuleta said.
While the draft ordinance also provides greater encouragement for spaying or neutering animals, Yocum said it does not make such procedures accessible.
While the organization’s board has called for more money from the town and county, it has also emphasized that simply expanding capacity will not resolve the issues facing Stray Hearts.
As an example, Yocum noted greenhouses were constructed in 2009 which allowed the shelter to expand its capacity by 40 kennels. But the kennels were promptly filled, Yocum said.
While the shelter is paying for spaying and neutering animals out of its operating budget, the executive director said Stray Hearts cannot by itself take on the task of curbing Taos County’s animal population. That will require a concerted effort by local governments, he said.
Yocum said that while animals are spending less time on average in the shelter than one year ago and that two groups of animals continue to be sent to shelters in Colorado each month, the efforts of staff and volunteers have been outpaced by intakes.
“They’re coming in so fast, you can’t get them out fast enough,” he said, adding that “nobody is addressing the root problem.”
If the new animal code is passed as proposed, Yocum said he anticipates intakes will spike even further.
Euthanizing animals for space is not an option, he said.
Board members described Monday’s announcement as “a wake-up call” for the town and county.
“We can’t do this anymore. It’s not fair to anyone,” said Pam Miller, referring to the shelter’s current arrangement with local governments.
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Posted by Bobbi Heller on July 19, 2015 at 10:37am
Animal shelter focuses on overlooked dogs
A new program at the Santa Fe animal shelter highlights overlooked dogs and offers adoption incentives.
Many dogs at the shelter are often overlooked for a variety of reasons, such as color or breed, said Hannah Padilla, the shelter’s director of behavior and training. But given a chance, the dogs are likely the perfect match for many families.
The shelter’s has launched the Weekend Wags program, she said. Each…Continue
Posted by Ben Swan on June 25, 2015 at 10:59am
Photo contest highlights dog friendly Santa Fe
The voting period has begun in a photo contest highlighting Santa Fe’s dog-friendly places.
More than 225 photos were submitted in the Instagram contest, sponsored by @SimplySantaFeNM, a local Instagram photo sharing company, and the Santa Fe animal shelter. The 12 finalists, selected by local judges, are now on the shelter’s Facebook page,…Continue
Posted by Ben Swan on June 4, 2015 at 11:39am
Take photos of your dog in your favorite dog-friendly Santa Fe locales and win prizes!
@SimplySantaFeNM, a local Instagram photo sharing company, and the Santa Fe Animal Shelter are showcasing dog-friendly businesses and places in Santa Fe through an Instagram photo contest. The contest offers prize packages for the top 12 winners as well as prizes for at least the top three crowd favorites.
To participate, post photos of your pup (or a friend's) at your favorite…
Posted by Ben Swan on May 25, 2015 at 2:42pm