FARMINGTON — The Farmington Regional Animal Shelter will spay or neuter up to 30 animals a day when its clinic begins accepting the public's pets, said Rebecca Raichel, the shelter's new veterinarian.

"It's a much needed service," she said.

Raichel, who started work two weeks ago, now spays or neuters 10 to 15 cats and dogs a day. City officials hope she will fix 1,500 to 2,000 animals a year to reduce the shelter's dog and cat overpopulation.

The full-time veterinarian receives a $70,000 salary and $20,300 in staff benefits, according to city documents.

Cory Styron, the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs director, said overpopulation is a problem. The old animal shelter was designed to hold 146 animals, but it teemed at times with nearly 200.

"And it's a really bad snowball effect," he said.

Cats can birth a litter as early as six months old, and they can do that three to four times a year, he said. Dogs and cats will overpopulate the new shelter — which can hold 358 animals — if more animals aren't fixed, he said.

The shelter's spay and neuter clinic will begin accepting the public's dogs and cats in April.

Shelter staff will use a sliding scale to calculate the fees owners will be charged. Customers will pay either $85, $60, $30 or nothing, depending on their income. A pet owner who earns more than $50,000 a year after taxes will pay the highest fee for the operation, but it will be free to an owner who earns less than $20,000.

But there is more to spaying and neutering than the surgery itself. Raichel said the culture of pet ownership needs to change so more animals are spayed and neutered.

"Our goal is to change the mindset of pet owners," she said.

That takes partnering with local veterinarian clinics, humane societies, animal shelters, rescue groups, the public and the city of Farmington, she said.

It will also take time, she said. Eventually, though, after the public hears the importance of spaying and neutering its animals over and over, the message will stick, she said.

Farmington Regional Animal Shelter veterinarian Rebecca Raichel examines Rocky, a 3-year-old Australian cattle dog, on Thursday at the animal shelter in
Farmington Regional Animal Shelter veterinarian Rebecca Raichel examines Rocky, a 3-year-old Australian cattle dog, on Thursday at the animal shelter in Farmington. (Megan Farmer — The Daily Times)

"Hopefully, in three to five years we can see a significant reduction in our pet population," Stryon said.

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