LAS CRUCES – A group of hardworking volunteers barked a lot for animal service officials.
About 20 demonstrators, made up of volunteers from the Mesilla Valley Animal Services Center, adoptive animal parents and a handful of children, disrupted the daily activities of the town hall and a monthly meeting of the Board of Directors Thursday morning.
The protesters – equipped with signs and shouts – demanded that the ASCMV return to its pre-COVID hours and allow the public to see more animals, especially large dogs. Shelter officials disputed the claims, saying construction efforts were limiting access, not COVID.
Since the start of the pandemic, the shelter has considerably reduced its opening hours. Potential adopters can browse the animals from noon to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. When browsing, adopters can only browse part of the installation. The rest is closed to the public. Otherwise, adopters must make an appointment online and are only allowed to see two animals that they have pre-selected.
What do they want? An open shelter
For protest organizer, volunteer and adoptive parent Foster Schneider, it’s not fair to the animals at the shelter.
“I’ve been to the shelter when people were there to come in and watch the dogs. They were turned away,” Schneider said.
Another organizer, volunteer and foster mother, Harriet Dannhaus, told the Sun-News she protested Thursday morning because she wanted the council to hear the voices of the big dogs. Dannhaus, like other protesters, said she thinks the shelter isn’t doing enough for larger dogs who have a harder time getting adopted.
National data collected by 11pets, a shelter management platform, shows that large breed dogs spend an average of 12 months in a shelter. Small and medium breeds spend between two and four months.
Dannhaus, Schnieder and the other protesters timed their civil disobedience to the monthly meeting of the ASCMV board of directors, which takes place at City Hall.
More municipal news:Affordable housing tops community demands in 2022 GO Bond election
The council is made up of county and city officials and brings together administrators from across the animal services diaspora in the Mesilla Valley. When the protest moved into the city council chambers, the board and local officials heard the protesters directly. During public comments, Dannhaus told the board that the shelter needs to do something soon to allow more people to adopt animals.
“We just want to work and find solutions,” Dannhaus said of suggesting the shelter use its outdoor space more for animal exhibits.
In February, the shelter said it housed 424 animals. It is also a slaughter shelter, which means staff use euthanasia practices to reduce the number of animals they house. The shelter also transfers animals to shelters and other safe houses across the country, reducing the need for euthanasia.
Most of the animals killed by the shelter are put down because of aggression or disease. However, the shelter kills some to make way for others. In February, shelter records showed eight animals were killed for space-related reasons. This means that the fewer animals that are adopted, the more likely the shelter will use lethal means to find room for new ones.
Authorities reject protester’s account
The shelter’s executive director, Clint Thacker, said that’s not happening despite the reduced hours. He showed the council statistics on adoption rates or transfer rates and told the Sun-News that the appointment system gives an adoption rate of 66%.
But Thacker also wanted to thank the protesters gathered during his presentation. He said he believed they had good intentions. However, Thacker did not give in to their demands for a full reopening. He said protesters were barking up the wrong tree.
The shelter is in the midst of a major renovation that is expected to be completed between September 2022 and January 2023. Thacker said once the shelter’s new building is up and running, volunteers like Dannhuas and Schnieder will change their tune.
Learn more about the new animal services building:
“Better results are coming,” Thacker said of the new shelter.
According to project manager Tom Gallagher, the new shelter will increase the number of kennels available and provide additional access to resources for the public. He said construction is about 49% complete.
As the mundaneness of the meeting progressed and after protesters voiced their concerns, they eventually left the council chamber before the meeting was over. Dannhaus and Schnieder told the Sun-News that they hoped their protest had changed the situation.
“They will have to really consider our ideas,” Dannhaus said.
Dannhuas and Schnieder said they felt heard by the board. Thacker told the Sun-News after the meeting that it was possible to allow greater access to the facility, despite the construction. Once construction reaches a milestone next month, Thacker said more of the facility will be open to the public.
Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at [email protected]