FARMINGTON — Myrena Jim held the shivering Chihuahua to her chest in a white and green-spotted baby blanket outside the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter on Friday, waiting to be let in.
She had adopted Teko, the little blond dog, 11 days ago from the shelter. The Bloomfield resident was drawn to him because he'd lost an eye. But on Friday, before the shelter had opened, the dog's wrinkled socket was weeping blood.
Community Program Coordinator Amber Francisco opened the door and Jim walked in.
"See," she said, "it's his eye."
One month ago, Farmington officials hosted the $4.6 million shelter's grand opening, and Mayor Tommy Roberts told the gathered crowd that the new building would help transfer the city from an "animal control community" to an "animal welfare community."
Now, according to shelter statistics, staff euthanize 20 percent of the shelter's animals. In the past, they put down up to 77 percent of their animals, according to the Animal Advisory Commission's monthly report.
Of the 450 dogs and cats the shelter took in last month, 123 were adopted and 180 were rescued or transferred to other shelters, according to its statistics.
"We're off to a great start, but we have not hit the crazy busy months yet, either," Shelter Director Stacie Voss said.
Staff are currently dealing with more unweaned puppies than Voss has ever seen, she said. Foster homes often house the puppies, and the homes are all full, she said. But, come summer, more puppies and kittens will likely flood the shelter, she said.
"I know that summer might be rough, but right now we're gathering steam and doing some good things," she said.
Teko jerked his head around taking in the building's lobby, blinking his one eye.
Francisco opened a carrier she'd placed on the counter top next to the computer and Jim put Teko inside, unwrapping him from his blanket. Francisco closed the door, and Jim reached her finger through the bars.
On Thursday night, Teko began jerking and howling, Jim said, and she noticed his face was bleeding. She thought it was his ear or his nose. Jim didn't notice Teko's eye socket was the source until they began driving for help.
"Oh," she said, pulling her finger out of the kennel and gripping the empty blanket in both hands, "and I just have to leave him?"
"Yes," Francisco said. "We'll have Rachael look at him. She's really good and she'll take a thorough look."
Voss said adoptions are the reason the shelter's euthanasia rates are dropping: If more find homes, fewer fill the shelter and fewer need to be put down.
But still, she said, not all can find homes. Cats are euthanized the most, as they often arrive feral. Killing them isn't the solution — because others cats or dogs replace them — but the other option takes time, she said.
In Omaha, Neb., where Voss worked for the Nebraska Humane Society, she said friends shunned one another if their dogs were not fixed. She said it was worse if they bred.
"It's really about a culture change for everybody," she said about Farmington and its neighboring communities.
She said it could be as simple as shelter staff encouraging their friends to fix their animals, and those friends then telling their friends, creating a ripple effect.
Also, if more people adopt dogs and cats neutered at the shelter, staff have room to fix more unaltered animals that come in, she said.
"It's a mix of education and peer pressure and everything else, and also having the services to get it done," she said.
Back at the desk in the lobby, Jim was still with Teko. She'd later find out her dog needed no treatment. It was a minor scratch.
She chose Teko because he was imperfect, she said. Aside from his missing eye, he has a heart murmur. But everyone is imperfect, she said — we just can't see it all the time.
"I'll be back," she told Teko. "Don't worry."