Halee Little, 4, plays with one of the cats at the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter on Friday during a grand opening celebration at the shelter, located
Halee Little, 4, plays with one of the cats at the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter on Friday during a grand opening celebration at the shelter, located at 133 Browning Parkway in Farmington. (Megan Farmer /The Daily Times)
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FARMINGTON — A crowd of at least 40 people circled on Friday around the red ribbon outside the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter and waited.

Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts stood in the center, holding a microphone, and spoke during the shelter's grand opening about the effort it took to open the building.

"Not everybody got what they wanted, but it is viable," Roberts told the crowd gathered outside the new shelter at 133 Browning Parkway. "It will help us transfer from an animal control community to an animal welfare community."

The crowd clapped. Next to Roberts, holding oversized scissors, stood Betty Ahrens Berry, a member of the steering committee that coordinated the shelter's funding.

Berry said she remembers marching the hill to Farmington's City Hall three decades ago and rallying with others for the old animal shelter, which was located at 1395 S. Lake St.

And when conditions began to deteriorate at the old shelter -- which now no longer holds animals -- she and the committee began a five-and-a-half year campaign to raise money and educate the community about the need for a new shelter, she said.

Animals were crowed and often diseased in the old shelter, said Loyd Lillywhite, veterinarian at the San Juan Veterinarian Hospital. That shelter's maximum capacity was 146 animals but, at times, it teamed with almost 200. The new shelter is almost twice the size of that shelter at 14,542 square feet. It can hold 358 animals, and Lillywhite said fewer are unhealthy.

Many staff members at the old shelter were also unhappy, Lillywhite said. But now staff walk the hallways of the new shelter smiling, he said.

"It's a wonderful improvement," he said.

Belinda Groth and Mary Clements agree. They are members of the San Juan County 4-H Pooch Patrol and local animal owners and advocates. Groth, of Farmington, donated towels and blankets to the shelter. Clements, who lives south of Bloomfield, gave money.

"It's in a nice part of town," Groth said of the new shelter, recalling the old shelter's proximity to the Farmington Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Clements added that the dogs and cats appear much happier in their new space.

"The kitty cats have nicer cages," she said.

Groth agreed.

"This is just so much nicer, and it's been a long time coming," she said.

The women said the new shelter could change the culture of people acting like pets are disposable. But first, shelter staff need to establish an affordable spay and neuter program, Groth said. Clements said the shelter should also establish a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats.

Back outside with the crowd in the sun, Berry approached the red ribbon with her scissors.

Betty Ahrens Berry prepares to cut the ribbon on Friday at the grand opening of the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter, located at 133 Browning Parkway in
Betty Ahrens Berry prepares to cut the ribbon on Friday at the grand opening of the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter, located at 133 Browning Parkway in Farmington. (Megan Farmer /The Daily Times)

"OK, ready?" she said.

"Three, two, one," someone counted down.

"OK, everybody," said Cory Styron, the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs department director. "Come on inside and get a puppy or kitten and take it home."

BY THE NUMBERS

14,542:Square footage of the new Farmington Regional Animal Shelter

$4.6 million: Total cost of the shelter

$2.7 million:Contributions from the state of New Mexico for the shelter

$650,000: Contributions from San Juan County for the shelter

$815,000: Contributions from the city of Farmington for the shelter

$440,000: Donations from the community for the shelter

Source: Farmington General Services Director Julie Baird provided the approximate budgeted figures.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.