New New Mexico Animal Welfare League shelter, thrift store will open on Bloomfield Highway

New Mexico Animal Welfare League will operate facility

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Floss Blackburn of the Denkai Animal Sanctuary in Cortez, Colo., is launching a new animal shelter in Farmington called Denkai New Mexico.
  • Floss Blackburn of the Denkai Animal Sanctuary is founding the new facility.
  • The shelter will be located in the old Halliburton headquarters at 3110 Bloomfield Highway.
  • The property features a 5,800-square-foot building and another one that is 11,000 square feet.

FARMINGTON — For close to 20 years, founder and executive director Floss Blackburn has operated a sanctuary that seeks to match unwanted or unclaimed animals with would-be pet owners.

Although her nonprofit organization, the Denkai Animal Sanctuary, is based in Cortez, Colorado, Blackburn said the majority of the approximately 1,000 animals her group handles each year come from New Mexico. So when she made the recent decision to expand her organization's efforts and open a second location, she said it was an obvious decision to do it in Farmington.

While the Denkai Animal Sanctuary will serve as the parent organization, Blackburn is launching the nonprofit New Mexico Animal Welfare League to run the new shelter, which will have several aspects. The organization has taken over the former Halliburton headquarters at 3110 Bloomfield Highway as its new home, a space that will allow for plenty of growth and some ambitious new animal welfare programs that Blackburn hopes to initiate.

Display shelves await assembly for the New Mexico Animal Welfare League thrift store opening soon at a location on the Bloomfield Highway.

The property features two buildings — one is 5,800 square feet, and the other one is 11,000 square feet. The smaller building will open first and will serve mostly as a retail thrift store designed to help provide financial support for the league. The second building will be completed in phases and will feature the animal shelter.

Blackburn is quick to emphasize she isn't trying to compete with the existing shelters in San Juan County, including the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter and the Aztec Animal Shelter. It's just that she believes the issue of unwanted animals in the county is so big that there's plenty of work for everyone to do.

"We do not want to step on the toes of the local shelters in any way," she said, explaining that she envisions her shelter complementing those facilities and eventually being able to take on animals the other facilities are not equipped to handle.

"We're just here to help," she said.

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Getting it off the ground

Blackburn hopes to see the New Mexico Animal Welfare League eventually become a separate entity and operate on its own. But during its infancy, she said, it will rely on the experience, reputation, fundraising power, foundation backing and organizational structure of the Denkai Animal Sanctuary.

"We know how to get it off the ground," she said.

Floss Blackburn of Denkai New Mexico hopes to sharply reduce the number of animals that wind up being euthanized in San Juan County with the opening of a new shelter in Farmington.

Blackburn's goal is to sharply reduce the number of animals from San Juan County that wind up being euthanized. She described her operation as a quality-of-life no-kill organization, meaning any decision to put down an animal will come only in extreme cases — when an animal is so ill or badly injured it would have no quality of life or when an animal is so aggressive toward people or other creatures that it is irredeemable and is not able to be placed with an adopter.

"In that case, we would do what is best for everybody and the animal," she said, adding that such instances are extremely rare.

Blackburn said Denkai has helped foster animals from the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter before and currently works in that same capacity with the Aztec shelter, so she has a high degree of familiarity with the local animal control situation. She believes the number of unwanted and unclaimed animals in San Juan County remains so high that the new organization can have a real impact, resulting in a more satisfying fate for thousands of animals.

"About 95% of the animals we handle at Denkai are New Mexico based," she said. "As an organization, it made sense for us to come down here and get involved."

Blackburn said the individuals who own the property where the new organization will be located have been extremely generous with the lease terms.

"This was an opportunity we could not pass up," she said.

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A home-like environment

The new shelter will start out small, with the capacity to handle anywhere from 10 to 30 animals initially. But after the full build-out of the larger building, Blackburn envisions the facility housing up to 100 animals at a time.

The design of the new shelter will steer away from the traditional institutional look and aim for a home-like environment that is more emotionally healthy for animals, Blackburn said. Animals will have the chance to get outside if they want to and interact with each other, so they are less isolated than they are in most shelter situations.

"We'll make sure they have plenty of stimulation, toys and treats, and make sure they don't go kennel crazy on us," she said.

Floss Blackburn of the New Mexico Animal League says the new shelter her organization is opening in Farmington is designed primarily for dogs and cats, but it will accept horses and farm animals, as well.

The shelter will be designed primarily for dogs and cats, but Blackburn said it would accept farm animals and horses, as well, in conjunction with the Denkai operation in Cortez.

Blackburn also plans to offer a training program for the animals at the shelter to address any behavioral issues they may have before they are adopted. She also wants to open a veterinary clinic to care for injured animals, and provide spay and neuter services on site.

"We're implementing the veterinary service to really attack (the problem of unwanted animals) at its root as opposed to just putting out fires," she said.

People who want to surrender unwanted pets or stray animals at the new shelter will be able to do so once it is open, Blackburn said. But if they want to report a stray animal to be picked up in Farmington, they still need to call animal control to perform that task, she said.

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"If it's on the reservation, that's a different story," she said. "But we want to make sure we're not crossing wires for the local municipalities."

Blackburn said she hasn't spoken with the managers at the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter and Aztec Animal Shelter yet about her plans for the facility, but she plans to do so soon. She said Denkai has had a long relationship with an organization that rounds up stray animals on the Navajo Nation and brings many of them to Cortez.

"They're moving out over 3,000 animals a year and still can't keep up with the numbers," she said. "Shelters here are still having to euthanize. So the need is much bigger than what you have the ability to fill. Hopefully, we can all work together and keep chipping away at the problem."

Blackburn is seeking donations, volunteers and employees for the new facility, including a thrift store manager. She hopes to have the retail store operating within two weeks and the small animal shelter open within perhaps a month. Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to call her at 970-217-1457 or email info@denkaisanctuary.org.

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Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.