Los Alamos County Council Weighs In On Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Recommendations

Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Char Wendee Brunish presents the committee’s report to Los Alamos County Council June 25. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos Daily Post

A great animal shelter is dedicated to the welfare of its pets, Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Chair Wendee Burnish told Los Alamos County Council during its regular meeting June 25. She also said a great shelter is dedicated to public service, has a clear vision of state-of-the-art care, has ongoing strategic planning and clear goals with objective measures.

The shelter should offer its animals daily walks, active toys, training, play groups and should regularly review animals to monitor and maintain their physical and psychological health, Brunish said. Volunteers need to be dedicated and well-trained. The staff should be committed professionals with experience and knowledge of ongoing shelter practices. 

To achieve this at the Los Alamos County Animal Shelter, the committee recommends the Community Services Department take over the animal welfare operations at the shelter. Los Alamos Police Department, which operates the shelter, would manage animal control.

The committee report states that the problem with the police department operating the shelter is that it is focused on public safety and animal control and not so much on the welfare and treatment of the animals. This can lead to animals being quarantined or put in isolation for periods of time, limited written policies on humane care and an inability to attract shelter professionals to work at the local shelter. Additionally, Brunish said there are concerns about the facility itself; the ventilation system as well as the temperature controls in the facility need to be improved.

As far as budget, Brunish reported a possible $380,540 budget for the shelter under the Community Services Department. This would not include the budget for animal control. The current baseline budget for the shelter is $370,540 and the current staff perform both shelter and animal control functions. Burnish said the committee arrived at the $380,540 budget based on discussions with County staff. 

No action was taken but Los Alamos County Council did offer input on the recommendation.

Council Chair Sara Scott wondered if a hybrid model for shelter operations could address the needs the committee identified. For example, could fewer than the number of proposed animal shelter professionals be hired to augment current operations, updated policies regarding animal care be implemented, and expanded training be implemented for staff to achieve the desired objectives, she asked.

Brunish said it wouldn’t be fair to ask the police department to switch its focus from animal control to animal welfare. She added she didn’t feel implementing new policies for animal welfare in the police department would work because its primary focus is on safety and animal control.

Councilor James Robinson asked how it could be guaranteed that issues the committee identified would be solved under a new department.

“Obviously we can’t guarantee anything,” Brunish said. “But we do clearly see more access to hiring of trained professionals, we clearly see access to better training for shelter professionals, we clearly see better opportunities for partnering with other shelters in the area who are eager and anxious to see this move forward and help us become part of the animal shelter community here in Los Alamos. We’re confident we will have a lot of access to a lot of great potential staff, great potential advisors and great potential partnerships with this model.”

Robinson asked if council decided the police department should continue to operate the shelter, would outside animal shelters not be interested in partnering with the shelter.

Brunish said area shelters would still be interested in partnering but the shelter could make huge advances if the new model under the Community Services Department was implemented.

Councilor Randall Ryti asked if the committee based its report by how other shelters in the state operate.

Brunish said the committee conducted research on shelters across the country and looked in depth at local shelters. She said the Santa Fe shelter is the best model to follow and while the Espanola shelter has the correct goals, focus, volunteers and staff, it struggles with limited resources.

She said the committee discovered the public does feel a shelter is important in Los Alamos.

“The public feels the County should offer this service to the citizens of the County,” Brunish said, adding, “We feel the stand alone shelter option would best serve both the community and the animals by providing high quality animal care and customer service, it could become a cutting-edge shelter that matches the high quality standard of life we have in Los Alamos County.”