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This post received the North Shore Animal League America Special Award given by the Dog Writer’s Association of America on February 12, 2017 for excellence in the writing on the topic of Spay and Neuter Initiatives in the nation.
A colleague in the animal advocacy community once declared, “We can’t rescue ourselves out of this mess,” when discussing the seemingly never-ending problem of pet overpopulation. For many, Spay and Neuter initiatives are regarded as the most humane form of rescue and advocacy. If we can stem the tide of unwanted pets, we can offer better care for those animals that will inevitably find themselves unhomed despite our best efforts.
At the BlogPaws conference in Phoenix Arizona in June, this topic seemed to “find” me as I became aware of how groups in different parts of the nation addressed these issue. BlogPaws represents the largest community of pet-professionals, advocates and writers in the world, with the common goal to improve the lives of companion animals. We sometimes, forget, however, that different regions of the nation face unique challenges when advocating for our companion animals.
At BlogPaws, I met Krystyn Bleda, a life time animal advocate from New Mexico. Krystyn and her husband, Raymond Sandor, are the co-founders of Desert Paws, Inc. animal rescue. Residing in Cochiti Lake, a small leasehold town on the Pueblo de Cochiti Indian Reservation, the couple with a slew of volunteers provides hands-on rescue, caregiving and transportation for Spay and Neuter procedures and veterinary care for tribal members animals from the neighboring three Pueblos.
Krystyn explains, “Moving from New York in 2003, we launched Desert Paws Inc. when we realized that there was an urgent need to help homeless, unwanted and injured animals in this area. Animals were being abandon, wandering around looking for food, warmth, help, some were killed on the road by vehicles, dumped from moving cars, close to death, some old, blind and unwanted. We obtained medical care for each one and then each was placed in foster homes, trained and finally placed into forever homes.”
Eventually, the Governor of the Cochiti tribe invited them to sit down and discuss possible solutions to address this situation. Krystyn and her husband developed a low/no cost Spay and Neuter program and worked with a local veterinarian, developing a solution on how to handle their appointments and emergencies. They were also able to attract several long term donors to help sponsor their Spay and Neuter program specializing in a tribal setting.
The challenges of animal advocacy in these rural, sovereign tribal communities are unique and significant. Although, many individuals care deeply about their pets, due to lack of resources on and around tribal lands many cannot easily obtain basic veterinary care, including Spay and Neuter procedures. As one of the poorest states in the nation, with a general population that is not well informed about the benefits of Spay and Neuter and lack law in their enforcement of inhumane chaining of dogs and backyard breeding, the municipal shelters of New Mexico are burdend by overcrowding.
Previously, veterinary students had come to the area to perform Spay and Neuter procedures, however, it didn’t work in many areas due to the lack of participation from locals. Many of the animals in the community are free-roaming, never even having been in a vehicle or a house making for surgery “round-up” efforts very difficult. In addition, tribal lands present unique challenges due to cultural beliefs stemming from agricultural lifestyles. People are not well- informed about common pet illnesses, treatment possibilities and yearly veterinary maintenance of a dogs or cats such as vaccines, heartworm, flea/tick prevention methods, and transmittable diseases.
In thinking outside the box, Desert Paws Inc. launched their current program, “Door2Door Spay/Neuter & Veterinary Care” about 3 years ago. In this successful initiative, Desert Paws Inc. volunteers pick-up animals from homes and bring them to their vet’s clinic where the Spay and Neuter procedure is safely performed. Raymond explains, however, “Our biggest challenge is transportation. Volunteers use their own cars to transport animals to our veterinary clinic that is over an hour away. Each Tuesday 3-5 animals arrive by 9:30 am and their stomachs must be empty. The following day, another 3-5 animals arrive and the animals brought in the day prior are returned safely to their families for monitoring and the process is repeated. Often, pets requiring other veterinarian treatments, such as for tick-born illnesses, bite wounds or surgeries for broken bones are brought in for medical attention, also.”
Krystyn points out the significant impact of strong Spay and Neuter initiatives. “For every dog, or cat, that is spayed or neutered, the births of six to twenty unwanted puppies and kittens are prevented. Pueblo de Cochiti, has a population of 1,500 people. With about two to four dogs per household (many of them are female) you can figure there are many dozens of reproducing moms at any given time that can typically produce a litter of 6-12 annually. That’s hundreds of pups born each year! Allowing for the fact that many of their offspring will not make it to adulthood, the area could still see a very substantial population spurt each year without a spay and neuter program in place. The cycle just repeats itself, growing and growing without intervention.”
Raymond notes that Cochiti Pueblo is one of the smaller pueblos, and now the goal of Desert Paws Inc. is to help the larger neighboring pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe, and later on possibly expand the programs into the Navajo Reservation farther west and north.
Krystyn stresses that she and her husband could not accomplish all of this alone, saying, “Thanks to the relentless efforts of our board member and volunteer coordinator, Margaret Evans, we now have the best volunteer crew!” In order to grow and accomplish more, however, they are looking for more funding and sponsorship for the rescue and a reliable, newer vehicle for transport is needed immediately. In the very near future, Desert Paws Inc. also hopes to raise funds to purchase a building, which they will convert into a surgery/veterinary clinic and hold/recovery facility in a more closer, central location.
It is clear that Desert Paws Inc. and the Cochiti Pueblo’s government came together at the right time to prevent the cycle of pet over-population in their native land. Through community collaboration, the dog and cat populations have lessened and its animal (and human) members are much happier and becoming healthier. These ground-breaking efforts have created a model that can be and need to be replicated elsewhere whether on sovereign tribal lands or on any rural areas in America. Small rescues can and need to play a huge part of these efforts and state governments need to offer a helping hand (and financial sponsorship) for such rescue organizations and their programs.
Krystyn is also aware of the power of the written word. She credits the blogging community for helping to spread the news about Desert Paws Inc. and their success. With conferences like the one recently organized by BlogPaws, Krystyn and her husband have faith that those who attended can use their blogging and writing expertise and influence to help increase awareness, share ideas and assist with the nation-wide implementation of programs like those started and offered by Desert Paws Inc. To learn more about Desert Paws Inc. or to sponsor their efforts/programs please visit their website at www.desertpawsnm.org or email them at email@example.com