Photography courtesy of The Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

Who Is Rescuing Whom?

by MK Mendoza with contributions by Brian Nelson

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter serves New Mexico’s canines and felines, but Santa Feans feel every bit as fortunate to have this extraordinary resource in their community.

If you’re looking for an adventure with purpose, adopting an animal could be just the ticket. Given the Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s large selection and decades of experience, there may be no better place to go — and no better time. An adopted critter can be the perfect companion, especially during a pandemic. Pets can reduce stress, anxiety and depression while easing loneliness and encouraging exercise.

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter (SFAS) is Northern New Mexico’s largest open-admission, no-kill shelter (the mayor deemed the city no-kill in 2017). Around for more than eighty years, and aptly called the “Shelter Different,” SFAS helps match over 5,000 animals annually with adopting households. With capacity for up to 300 animals, the main shelter sits on a one hundred-acre campus equipped with walking trails, play yards and single- and multi-use public dog parks.

New Mexico, like the rest of the country, has countless organizations working to fill the community’s needs. Rest assured, Santa Fe Animal Shelter is a noteworthy example of a nonprofit that fills a crucial need and fills it well. And their success has only led them to grow the reach and scope of the services they offer.

A brown and white dog with blue eyes
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s animals waiting to meet their forever families.
A brown and white dog being carried by a woman
The emotional bond between person and pet grows both parties’ sense of trust, responsibility and loyalty.

Having reduced Santa Fe’s homeless animal population by fifty percent in the last decade, SFAS has increased its breadth to include all of New Mexico, with the goal of shifting shelters state wide to a no-kill policy. In the meantime, they generously accept animals from across the state, providing all necessities until each animal is ready to live in a household. This is no simple task, nor is it a cheap one: the average cost of care per animal from entry to adoption is $650.

After twenty years in the corporate world, SFAS Public Information Officer Murad Kirdar left to do what he now considers the most rewarding experience of his life. “When you see a dog that you know came from a hard life happily leaving the shelter with a new family, who’s just as happy, you know you’ve done something good — even if it takes years,” he says. “Building families is what we do.”

The Shelter Different makes sure animals and humans are well-educated and prepared for their new lives together. Being an effective animal guardian requires an understanding of your pet’s world, and the patience to help them understand ours. Learning the habits and tells of different species and breeds can help you find the right match. But species and breed don’t always guarantee an easy fit. Just like humans, each animal is unique.

“When you see a dog that you know came from a hard life happily leaving the shelter with a new family, who’s just as happy, you know you’ve done something good.”

“I always say we don’t marry the first person we fall in love with,” Kirdar explains. “That’s also true with animals. Our ultimate goal is to keep the animal in the home whenever and wherever possible. We’ve even sent our behaviorist to people’s houses if they needed it.” And this extra effort pays off: seventy-five percent of adoptions are success stories. In the rare case it doesn’t work out, the shelter offers a thirty-day refund policy. For animals that can’t be socialized, SFAS also has options such as their Barn Cat Program, a safe outdoor setting for under-socialized cats.

A cat with blue and green eyes
The Santa Fe Animal Shelter rescues
all furry friends (including guinea pigs!),
not just cats and dogs.

Like any relationship, animal stewardship requires some work. “Patience is key,” Kirdar continues. “It’s not only rare but unrealistic to bring home a dog or cat and expect a perfect situation in one night or even the first seventy-two hours. It could take a week, a month, sometimes several.” Experts compare an animal’s adoption experience to us traveling to another country: it takes time to adapt. To help with the transition from shelter to new home, SFAS provides community classes with on-site animal behaviorists. Classes range from basic puppy rearing, to clicker training for cats, to entertaining your pet during the pandemic. Adopting automatically qualifies you for a discount.

Matching pets with households is only part of the puzzle. With three different veterinary facilities, SFAS also makes sure that all of Santa Fe’s pets have access to high-quality medical care at reasonable prices. Besides the general care services offered at their Clare Eddy Thaw Animal Hospital, the offer low- to no-cost spay and neuter programs, euthanasia and cremation services. These are available to all Santa Fe pets, whether they were adopted from SFAS or not.

Animal companionship carries an impact that far surpasses the simple needs of food and shelter for a furry friend. The emotional bond between person and pet grows both parties’ sense of trust, responsibility and loyalty. A critter cohort can also be a great way to bring the entire family together, giving everyone a new buddy to love and care for. And choosing to adopt from a no-kill shelter rather than purchasing from a breeder or pet shop is a great way to help keep our local animal populations in check while supporting an outstanding local nonprofit, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. Then all that’s left to do is ask the classic question, who’s rescuing whom?

MK Mendoza

MK Mendoza is a an Emmy award-winning television producer, entertainer, writer and entrepreneur. She has worked on productions ranging from the George Foster Peabody Award Winning documentary, Surviving Columbus, to the Emmy Award winning programs of Colores! and Breaking Bad, as well as such networks as HGTV, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. She is the host of KSFR 101.1FM’s Wake-up Call.

Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson is a freelance writer, editor, musician and educator based in Glorieta, New Mexico. He is the co-founder and artistic director of Queen Bee Music Association and a contributor for the online music publication Rootfire.


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