New Mexico Fires Driving Furry Friends From Homes

Dog, cat shelters at maximum capacity need help

By Autumn Gray

Much of New Mexico has looked and felt like hell on earth during the past few months as the state’s largest fire in history torched 300,000+ acres east of Santa Fe. As of deadline for this story, that was just one of multiple state fires still consuming homes, decimating forests, and displacing residents – including an unquantifiable number of cats and dogs.

Abandoned and relocated pets are the largely unheard victims in this crisis. The unluckiest of them are left behind to fend for themselves; several have been seen running on highways near Santa Fe, dodging cars instead of flames. The most fortunate get taken with their families to temporary residences that accept animals and people. Those pets that fall somewhere in the middle wind up in local shelters that agree to care for them until their owners can find a suitable residence or return to their homes with their pet.

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter, for example, has opened its kennels to owned cats.

“A woman came to us two weeks ago, and her house was destroyed outside Las Vegas, and she had a 22-year-old cat (named Nani). We cared for the cat for about a week so she could figure her life out. It was the first time she had ever been separated from her cat in 22 years,” said Murad Kirdar, public relations officer for the nonprofit Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

“During such a stressful time, if we can provide that one piece of the puzzle for them and let them know the cat is safe, it’s one less worry for them.”

The fires only exacerbated a shelter situation that had already been approaching a crisis for several local animal welfare organizations. Kirdar said the Santa Fe shelter had been at capacity for seven months prior to the fires but is now at “critical capacity.” It has taken in pets from residents in Las Vegas and Los Alamos and is working with other shelters, both in and out of state, to ensure that New Mexico’s pet needs are met.

Some of the Santa Fe shelter’s adoptable dogs and cats were transported to Best Friends Animal Society in Utah to help make room for those displaced by fires. Animal Humane New Mexico in Albuquerque also lent a paw, taking in dozens of adoptable animals from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, the Las Vegas Animal Welfare Coalition, and also from a Taos animal welfare organization.

“We made room in those shelters by helping them clear out pets that were adoptable. We wanted to make sure owned pets were not being taken out of their communities,” said Erica Webb, Animal Humane’s senior director of development and marketing.

“We’re definitely stretching our capacity.”

Part of the reason for the shelter populations is that cat and dog adoptions have slowed this year right along with the pandemic as people focus on getting out of their homes rather than on finding ways to entertain themselves at the house, such as by adopting a pet.

“With everything opening back up, folks that didn’t have a pet previously aren’t looking for one now; they’re ready to go the Bahamas,” Webb said.

As of mid-May, Animal Humane had 64 dogs and 42 cats housed at its main campus at 615 Virginia St. SE. Many more were in foster care.

To ease the load on the shelters and to give the animals a break, animal welfare organizations are seeking foster homes, even for short-term care, such as a weekend or a few weeks. Also needed are unrestricted monetary donations, volunteers, and adopters who have the time and ability to provide a loving forever home for a dog or cat.

“Responding to the fires has been a community effort as far as collaboration among animal welfare organizations and pet lovers across all New Mexico communities,” Webb said. “We’re incredibly grateful for everything that pet lovers are willing to do to support New Mexico pets.”


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