Ad-Hoc Committee Recommends Moving Animal Shelter Operations Under Community Services Department

The Los Alamos County Animal Shelter at 226 East Road. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos County Council will discuss at its June 25 meeting the possible transfer of the animal shelter operations to the Community Services Department.

Animal Shelter Ad-Hoc Committee Chair Wendee Brunish

The Animal Shelter Ad-Hoc Committee will present the recommendation. Committee Chair Wendee Brunish said while operations would move to the Community Services Department, the Los Alamos Police Department, which currently manages the shelter, would continue to operate animal control.

In addition to transferring operating responsibilities, the committee also is recommending the shelter’s budget be increased from $372,540 to $380,540. This budget does not include animal control, the police department would still need funds for those services.

Regarding the recommendation, Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone said, “I look forward to County Council’s review of the ad-hoc committee’s report. I stand by my earlier comments that our shelter does an outstanding job and consistently provides appropriate care for the animals we serve.”

Burnish said, “We think animal control and operations are very different and it is not fair for the police department to have additional functions that aren’t in line with law enforcement.”

She explained that Community Services seems like the best department to operate the shelter because “they have sort of a broad portfolio. They are part of the County that provides services to the community so we think they would do a good job running the animal shelter.”

Brunish said while moving operations to the Community Services Department is the top recommendation, the committee has two other options Council could consider.

One is to keep the shelter operations as is and the second option is to turn the shelter into a transfer only facility. Brunish explained this means that animals would be temporarily housed at the shelter before being moved permanently to a nearby shelter.

Brunish said the committee feels a change is necessary.

“We do think there is a need to increase resources available to the shelter,” she said.

These resources include play groups for the animals, training sessions to improve adoptability and benefit the animals’ physical and emotional well-being, Burnish said. Other possible programs include adoption programs such as matching pets with potential owners and doing follow-up meetings to make sure the adoption is a success.

“We think the reorganization and resources will really provide excellent services to this community,” Brunish said.

According to the committee’s report, the police department funds the shelter under its animal control unit. There are four staff members including three public safety aides and the shelter manager.

Primary duties as stated in the report:

  • Addressing citizen complaints;
  • Picking up roaming dogs;
  • Investigating bite cases; and
  • Investigating cruelty cases.

Issues with shelter operations listed in the report executive summary:

  • The shelter operations should expand beyond animal control to include animal welfare best practices, shelter animal behavioral evaluation, enrichment and behavioral modification, adoption counseling, surrender prevention and public education and outreach;
  • Since the budget falls under the police department, funding may shift away from animal welfare needs;
  • Animal control priorities sometimes conflict with shelter operational priorities for instance, if public safety aides need to go on a call; the shelter needs to be closed.
  • The volunteer training program needs to be enhanced; and
  • Chronic staffing and funding shortages exist at the shelter.

Brunish said the committee plans to offer support and expertise to ensure the transfer would be smooth and the issues resolved.

“Animal shelter is not something you do in a void,” Brunish said. “You have a lot of people who want you to succeed … we’re very supportive of this effort and are willing to share expertise and we’re very much on board for doing that.”

Brunish said the shelter has the potential to be a leader in the community and “I think people will definitely support improvements to the shelter.”

She added, “Now is the time to put together an excellent animal shelter and staff in the community.”

The committee has been meeting since September. Former County Councilor Christine Chandler proposed forming the committee and Council approved formation of the committee in July 2018 and selected its members in August 2018.

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