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FARMINGTON — A leadership vacuum at the Farmington Animal Shelter could be having impacts beyond the facility’s walls.

In the last six months, a variety of initiatives such as low-cost spay/neuter and volunteer programs, have been proposed to help alleviate overcrowding, high euthanasia rates and other issues at the shelter. The efforts, however, have lacked coordination, and one local veterinarian says measurable improvement will be unlikely until the shelter hires a new director.

“I think the fact there there’s no director is a huge deal,” said Margie Alvarez of Valley Veterinary Clinic. “It seems like there’s no real leadership right now. You need someone to train and inspire (employees). That person needs to be hired.”

The shelter’s growing pains appear to have led to problems between the Humane Society of the Four Corners and one local veterinarian. Manuel Garcia, a veterinarian with San Juan Veterinary Hospital, and Jeff Bowman, the city’s former Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director, had a verbal agreement that the city would not open up the spay/neuter facility to the public as it would take revenue from the local veterinarians, said Traci Fletcher, Humane Society of the Four Corners board member, in a statement emailed to The Daily Times last week.

Garcia does spaying and neutering for the shelter.

“This is a huge conflict of interest for Dr. Garcia,” she said. “All of the medications that are used at the facility should be purchased for the best possible price in order to serve as many animals as possible. Dr. Garcia insists that all drugs be purchased through his clinic at a markup of 30 percent. Again, a huge conflict of interest by Dr. Garcia.”

Garcia said the situation is more complicated and that there is no conflict of interest.

“When we started the spay and neuter program down there the charge given to me was to make sure that animals coming out of the shelter were spayed or neutered,” he said. “That’s really all the facility is equipped for.”

After Marcy Eckhardt was hired as the animal shelter’s consultant, Garcia said she asked him to provide more services such as some medical care for sick shelter animals. Garcia said when he started providing those services there was no system for ordering medication directly from the distributor so medicine had to be provided by the San Juan Veterinary Hospital at retail prices.

“There (was) a markup, but now we order directly from the distributor,” Garcia said.

Fletcher says improving the area’s pet overpopulation problem will require selflessness from veterinarians, and Alvarez has already responded.

“Margie Alvarez of Valley Veterinary Clinic stated ... that she would be willing to donate her time and services at the shelter to help with spays and neuters,” she said. “This is a very gracious offer on her part and shows the depth of compassion and concern she has for animals that are so desperately in need.”

But for Alvarez, the solution lies in teamwork and establishing a concrete leadership structure to organize volunteers, community education initiatives and shelter operations.

Working at an animal shelter exposes employees to the harsh realities of veterinary care, Alvarez said. Those harsh realities have led to some burnout within the shelter’s staff. Strong, confident leadership from a shelter director will help retain, organize and inspire staff to work together with purpose.

“A new director will bring direction,” she said. “I definitely think that the spay/neuter program has been a good program. With the low-cost, I think they first need to make sure the shelter is running properly.”

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.