FARMINGTON — A wooden placard greets visitors to the Farmington Animal Shelter with a simple message, "It's raining cats and dogs."
In recent weeks, a flood of cats and dogs has threatened to overwhelm shelter staff, contributed to a rapidly spreading infection among the kittens and forced an increase in euthanasia rates.
While city officials and animal rights advocates agree that significant strides have been made at the facility, they say decisive action is needed before conditions deteriorate further."The simple fact is that there are more animals coming in than going out," said Cory Styron, the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director.
For every animal that leaves the shelter, three or four come in, he said.
More puppies and kittens are born during the summer months, Styron said, and shelters across the country are filling up quickly, making transfers from the Farmington shelter nearly impossible.
The transfer rate has fallen from 50 to 75 animals on a biweekly basis, to 15 to 20 animals, he said.
"The only tool left is just to euthanize," Styron said. "It's not the No. 1, preferred solution, but it's going to be a continuing situation."
And, he said, the city's new shelter, under construction off Browning Parkway near Animas Park, is not the ultimate solution.
"All it does is buy us about 30 days," Styron said.
Based on current intake and outflow rates, the new shelter would be at capacity after about a month, he said.
The rising euthanasia rate led to the recent resignation of three staff members, Styron said.
From January to March 2013, Farmington Animal Shelter staff euthanized 478 cats and dogs, according to a report provided to The Daily Times. More recent euthanasia figures were not available.
Shelter employees and local animal rights advocates have also found themselves fighting against an attitude that animals are disposable.
"Someone actually brought in puppies in a trash can," Styron said.
Shelter staff found the seven abandoned puppies in a trash can by the facility's entrance. They nicknamed them "the seven dwarfs." The situation at the shelter has affected the local animal activist community.At the beginning of the month, Animal Services Advisory Commission founding member Molly Bondow resigned from her position.
Her resignation letter was provided to The Daily Times through a public records request made earlier this week.In the letter, she stated that in spite of progress made at the shelter, she feels that her voice has been stifled and that suggestions to city staff for improving shelter operations are falling on deaf ears.
Bondow did not return a phone call for comment.
The resignation letter also included a quarterly report from Marcy Eckhardt, acting animal welfare director at the shelter.
Eckhardt was not at the animal shelter on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
According to the report, some positive changes have been made at the shelter, including a reformed euthanasia policy, efforts to improve medical care, 24-hour access to water, and a focus on adoption, transfer, recruiting volunteers and foster care for animals too young or injured to be adopted.Eckhardt's report, however, outlined a number of challenges obstructing progress.
"We have a number of individuals -- some in key positions -- who are dead-set against the changes that are being implemented," the report said. "The resulting turmoil undermines efforts to improve the quality of care at the shelter."
The lack of a working medical department at the shelter has resulted in, at best, a cursory examinations of animals upon intake, according to the report. Poor management of the spay and neuter clinic poses a significant threat to shelter operations and jeopardizes access to grants.
The report said community education on the importance of spay and neuter must be implemented in conjunction with proper operation of the shelter's clinic.
In the meantime, shelter staff say they are doing their best to manage the situation.
"We're full," said Shawni Ray, a veterinary technician and receptionist at the shelter. "We have the 200 capacity, and then some. We need volunteers and (foster homes)."
Caring for the cats and kittens has been the most significant challenge, Ray said.
"We've had upper respiratory problems with the cats," she said. "Sadly, we've had to euthanize due to disease. It's really sad. I know I can't be in there when they do that."
And it seems that the influx of kittens will not stop in the coming weeks, Ray said.
Animal shelter employees encourage anyone interested in volunteering or fostering a litter to contact them directly at 505-599-1098, or to stop by the facility located at 1395 S. Lake St. in Farmington.
The shelter will also hold a cat and kitten $25 adoption special every Wednesday through the end of the month, Ray said.
Samantha Embry, the shelter's volunteer coordinator, said they are also in need of donations, shredded paper, newspaper, blankets, water bowls and toys.
"We're short-staffed to do socialization and cleaning projects," Embry said. "We do about five hours of cleaning and disinfection in the morning, but cleaning is all day. It's a difficult job, but we're trying our best. Our focus is on the animals."