Saturday, August 14, 2010

Should the daily newspaper be taking sides?

I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News in response to an "Our View" in the paper this past week where the paper's editorial staff came out against the ASPCA's offer to help our shelter get on the right track. The paper has been in the shelter's pocket, so to speak, for some time now, but I question the validity of their views and what they are based on. I don't see how they can weigh in on an issue they know so little about, and wouldn't they be doing the public more service by covering this story fairly and presenting the facts as they get them and all sides to the issue?

Here's the letter I sent. I hope it makes it to print in the paper, but in case it does not, I wanted to share it with everyone.

The real elephant in the room
(submitted as a letter to the editor to the Las Cruces Sun-News on August 11, 2010)

With all due respect, perhaps the editorial staff at this paper should not be writing an “Our View” about a subject you know little about—animal sheltering. Perhaps you’d do better to cover the facts and give equal opportunity to all sides without taking a side of your own.

We who raise the voice of shelter reform do so from a place of wanting the best for our homeless animals. Telling us our efforts do more harm than good won’t guilt us into silence because we know that from silence, nothing changes.

The real elephant in the room is the one you don't see—the lack of accountability for proper shelter operations. You scoffed at shelter reviews by different industry experts since 2006. All point to the same repairs needed for the kennels/ventilation system and the lack of adhering to well-documented best practices regarding shelter medicine and humane animal care. To this date, none of these issues have been addressed.

In any industry, we’d expect best practices to be applied; why not with our animal shelter? The standards should be applied no matter how many animals enter the facility each day/month/year. At the same time, our shelter should ensure each animal in their care is living according to the Five Freedoms and being equitably routed through the system. It’s a challenging job—but not impossible.

Instead, our shelter is housing more animals than they can properly care for, and they are releasing unvaccinated/unaltered animals into the public they chastise for such practices. Yet, the only progress that has been made under new management working with a vastly higher budget is a small drop in the kill rate for dogs.

For those who want an animal-sheltering education, start here:,,,, and

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Urge our leaders to partner with the ASPCA on shelter repair and reform

I am going to be very blunt: we have the worst case of animal hoarding right inside the Las Cruces, NM, municipal animal shelter at this time. Because of this, the ASPCA is offering to send a team of experts to help us clean up and repair the physical building and train management and stafff on sheltering best practices and animal intake, routing, herd health, shelter medicine, etc. It is a challenge to our leaders and community to work hard for two months to make drastic change, and we'd be fools not to accept this help and make it happen. Where there is a will, there is a way, and conditions are so dire that drastic and immediate action is necessary (it has been for some time). See yesterday's blog post for the ASPCA report and details.

If you want the ASPCA to help our shelter progress and right its wrongs, please contact the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley's oversight board. Right now, it sounds as if many of them have completely closed the door to the ASPCA because of them calling for the shelter to close for 60 days, but there are possibilties and options for what we can do with our homeless animals during that time frame. Our leaders have not even sat down with the ASPCA to work out those details. It is incumbent upon them to do so, as far as I'm concerned.

The board's names, e-mails, and phone numbers are listed next; contact them with your opinions!

Miguel Silva, ASCMV Board Chair, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Dolores Connor, Board Member, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Nathan Small, Board Member, City Councilor, 541-2066,

Terrence Moore, Non-Voting Board Member, City Manager, 541-2076,

Scott Krahling, Board Member, County Commissioner, 525-5810,

Oscar Vasquez-Butler, Board Member, ,County Commissioner, 647-7201,

Jess Williams, Board Member, Dona Ana County Director, 525-5801,

Brian Haines, Non-Voting Board Member, County Manager, 647-7201,

Saturday, August 7, 2010

ASPCA report on municipal shelter

Recently, a team from the ASPCA's Community Initiatives was invited to Las Cruces to help our shelter and community with proactive and modern approaches to our animal-welfare issues. They were invited here by the shelter's director, whose focus is usually outside the shelter's walls and on the ongoing overpopulation issues we have here with cats and dogs. What the shelter manager did not foresee and what the ASCMV Board did not expect was that this group of seasoned professionals would be so shocked by the state of overcrowding and improper housing in our animal shelter that the group was impelled to write a report and offer to come to our community to help us turn things around.

What is even more shocking for myself, as I have been calling for shelter reform for some time now and even became a broken record on this blog, is that our shelter's oversight board would react so defensively to the ASPCA. I felt for sure that this time they would have that light-bulb moment I have been wishing upon them for years; instead, they are entrenching themselves even more deeply in the rhetoric that the shelter is doing the best it can because it is so overwhelmed with animals.

Let me remind everyone that our shelter is no more inundated now than it has been in the last 15 years. Our rate of intake is the same. What has changed now is that the pendulum has shifted all the way from empty cages to cages and crates overfilled with animals and with basic animal sheltering practices of intake, routing, animal husbandry, and shelter medicine not being implemented at all. What has resulted is a situation that is going to explode if something is not done about this soon.

The shelter has also been using a double-wide trailer to house dogs in for many, many months. What is wrong with this picture is many-fold. They house dogs in small crates 24/7 with little time away from the intense confinement; they have issues with cleanliness; they have serious rat infestation issues, etc. This trailer is not designed to nor should have ever been used for this purpose.

Guess what? The ASPCA team agreed. They called for the immediate cessation of using this trailer to house animals and for our shelter to never use it again for this purpose.

Please see their report, which is copied next. Please urge our leaders to work with the ASPCA and take them up on their offer to come out and help our shelter start from scratch. It is really our only hope.

ASPCA Report:

August 2, 2010

Request: Beth Vesco-Mock, DVM, Executive Director, ASCMV approached Karen Medicus, Senior Director, ASPCA Community Outreach, asking if there was any way the ASPCA could provide assistance with the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley. Karen suggested she visit the shelter with an ASPCA team to explore areas for assistance and collaboration.

The ASPCA team toured the shelter on July 27, 2010.

Situation Found at a Critical Level:
Building capacity has been surpassed beyond minimal standards for space requirements per animal.
Care and husbandry of animals not consistent with basic/adequate infection or disease management.
Facility is in a state of disrepair. HVAC system needs repair and kennel surfaces in need of repair and sealing to allow proper disinfection. Trailer house not appropriate for animal housing. There is no way to properly sanitize or ventilate this building.

Immediate: Need official request for ASPCA assistance from the joint animal services board agreeing to:
Stop receiving animals at this location until building repairs can be completed.
Remove all animals from the building and transfer animals that can be placed with placement organizations within and without of the City of Las Cruces.
The ASPCA will provide assistance from our Field Investigation and Response team to transport animals out of the area.
Decontaminate and repair the shelter building.
Discontinue use of trailer house building for animal housing permanently.
Work with assistance from the ASPCA shelter veterinarian, Dr. Mc Reynolds and team to develop the plan for management of shelter flow, and herd health.
Coordinate all media outreach and interview opportunities with ASPCA media and communications team to ensure consistent and proper messaging.

Intermediate- If requested the ASPCA will facilitate a community planning process to engage the community in joint life saving programs for the community animals.

Proposed time-line:
Week of August 2 – 6
Karen Medicus return to Las Cruces, on evening of the 4th, meet with Dr. Beth and her staff at 7:30 am on the 5th and attend the Board meeting at 9 am. Karen will be available until 2:30 pm on the 5th to work out details and answer questions if the Board asks for ASPCA assistance.

Identify location for delivery of shipping crates and supplies for transfer of animals to placement partners.

Week of August 8 – 14
Dr. Mc Reynolds return to Las Cruces with two team members to assist ASCMV staff with identification of animals appropriate for transfer to placement partners, complete medical, paperwork, etc.

Cease animal intake on 11th.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Week of August 15 – 21
ASPCA team arrives in Las Cruces with transport vehicles to begin transfer of animals.

ASCMV staff begins cleaning and decontamination of vacated animal holding areas.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Week of August 22 – 28
ASPCA staff begin work with ASCMV staff on reorganization of operations and development of SOPs

ASCMV staff continues decontamination.

Contractors begin HVAC repairs and kennel wall and floor sealant process.

Continue spay/neuter services.

Week of August 29 – September 4
Finish SOPs and begin personnel management plan and staff training.

Continue repairs on building.

Continue spay/neuter surgeries.

Weeks from September 5 through September 26
Continue building repairs until complete.

Continue spay/neuter services.

Week of September 26 – October 2
Begin intake of animals and re-open shelter.