FARMINGTON — For Larissa Shaheen, helping dogs heal emotional and physical injuries so they can wag their tails again is no different than caring for family.

In the last year, Shaheen has personally rescued 73 animals, including 11 cats and a rabbit, using word-of-mouth, lots of phone calls, Facebook and other social media. Many of the animals she finds are from shelters, on the streets, or dumped in remote areas in San Juan County along oil-field roads.

Though she earned a degree in psychology, Shaheen, a lifelong animal lover, fell into animal rescue as a full-time job in Abilene, Tex., when she found an abandoned Boxer named Bruiser.

"I thought I had found a really nice couple to adopt him, but when I went to their home I saw three neglected dogs, one severely emaciated, and found the skeletal remains of a dog in their backyard," said Shaheen, who called Animal Control to remove the dogs and cite the couple for neglect. "That was an eye-opener for me. Thankfully, I finally placed Brusier with a good family and have been trying to help animals ever since."

After returning to Farmington, her hometown, Shaheen named her rescue after her first rescue dog and has teamed up with Kim Anderson, an Aztec dog trainer for more than 25 years.

"Bruiser's Rescue" also includes eight area individuals who provide foster care help. Shaheen and Anderson hope to raise enough money to pay for a non-profit status application.

"Sadly, many of the dogs we find are in bad situations from people who abused or neglected them or didn't know what they were getting into when they brought the animal home," Shaheen said.

An extreme case of abuse was a stray named Marigold who was wandering the streets after having acid poured on her back. Under Shaheen and Anderson's care -- and some costly veterinarian bills -- you would never know the healthy and happy two-year-old Irish terrier mix had ever had a bad day in her life. Today she has a healthy coat of hair and a playful shine in her eyes.

Shaheen also takes in animals from "horders" like a Farmington woman who had 20 dogs in a small mobile home. Shaheen took six of them into her care.

"Those 20 dogs, most of them puppies, had never been outside," Shaheen said. "They were timid, scared. They had never been vaccinated, never even knew the feeling of being outside in fresh air once."

More commonly she finds neglected animals as a result of area "backyard breeders" or puppy mills, run by people who breed dogs solely for profit, often selling the puppies off within weeks of birth.

"Too many people take dogs who are under 8 weeks old. It should be a crime," Anderson said. "Taken from their litters that early causes fear, aggression and other behavioral problems. Run far and fast if you are offered a puppy at only eight or nine weeks."

Anderson is currently working with a 9-month-old deaf hound-heeler mix named Juanita and Peanut, a Chihuahua puppy given up by its owner who kept the 2-pound dog outside over the winter and was frustrated and overwhelmed with its behavioral problems.

"Treated like beloved family members, no animal is beyond help with good training," Anderson said. "People need to do more research on the dogs they intend to adopt. Some breeds require more effort than some may think. Some need a chance to run outside and can't be kept indoors or chained up outside. Some shed. Knowing the basics about a breed and how to train it is the first place to start."

Shaheen insists people who want to adopt her animals understand and agree to an adoption agreement before taking the animals.

"A lot of people ask if they can adopt a dog for free. If you can't afford to pay the adoption fee, you can't afford an animal," Shaheen said. "Our animals are loved like family."

Shaheen charges a modest adoption fee of $75 for dogs and $15 for cats, money she spends on vet bills, food and supplies.



James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.