Tia Jones takes on a role not many people have the compassion and fortitude for — she’s a voice for the voiceless.
Jones, a Los Lunas local, spends her retirement doing everything in her power to rescue and improve the lives of critters in a county overwhelmed with homeless and neglected animals.
While Jones loves any four-legged animal, she said her focus is on cats because they are often overlooked.
“I just kind of fell into the cats because dogs have enough advocates,” Jones said. “All the off-site adoption events are dedicated to dogs and it’s that way everywhere.”
Jones has been volunteering at the Valencia County Animal Shelter for the past eight years and is regarded as the unofficial cat rescue coordinator. Through this, she helps cats and kittens get out of the shelter and into rescues, off-site adoption facilities and into good homes.
In recent months, the shelter’s euthanization rate has been hovering around 50 percent, so locating safe spaces for them outside the shelter is imperative and something Jones has a huge impact on.
“She’s very giving with the animals; whatever she can do to help,” said Patty Mugan, a previous supervisor at the shelter who Jones has worked with for several years. “Cats have always been her thing, but she helps with dogs, rabbits and anything that’s come into the shelter that needs a ride or needs a place to go.”
Jones also responds to rescue requests within the community and constantly keeps an eye and ear out for four-legged souls in need.
“I carry six cat carriers in my car at all times, including a neonate carrier and a heating pad just so that I’m always ready,” said Jones.
“She’s always been one of the first people to step up,” said Mugan, “even during times that were difficult for her, she still makes getting them out of the shelter a priority.”
Jones has been fostering cats and kittens since she began volunteering at the shelter, often taking in the ones who are sick and in need of extra care who otherwise would have most likely been euthanized at the shelter.
“She’s fostered several over the years, probably hundreds if not more and she’s taken on a lot of tough cases,” said Mugan.
Jones is also one of the three founders of the local nonprofit organization, All for Animals, which collects donations that all go directly to the county shelter. The funds help cover the costs of supplies, spay and neuter services and more.
“There’s so many animals in need right now,” Jones said. “Everybody’s full and people still are not spaying and neutering, so it’s just adding to the problem. We’re never going to get a handle on this until that turns around.”
Some of Jones’ most important efforts take place online through a very active social media presence on Facebook dedicated to bringing more visibility to shelter animals and educating the public.
“It’s gotten the word out and does help,” said Jones of her social media presence. “I just want to help the animals. You won’t see anything political on my page, and you see very little that’s personal. It’s all going to be anything I can do to help animals.”
Apart from her own page, Jones is an administrator on the All for Animals and Volunteers of Valencia County Animal Shelter for Cats Facebook pages. She said social media has helped her get connected with many rescue groups and helps get information out to the public about animals at the shelter, as well as helpful tips and resources.
Chances are if you’ve seen a missing pet or rehoming post, you’ll see a comment from Jones with helpful and important information. She also makes it a point to share information people might not necessarily want to hear, but need to.
For instance, if someone posts in a public group or platform that they are giving away pets for free, she will comment about why this is not the best idea, but she is never condescending, just informative.
“Reactions are mixed. Some people get mad at me. They say, ‘You’re creating drama; you’re trying to stir up trouble,’ but if you saw what we see at the shelter, you would realize this is true. I wish it wasn’t, but it is,” said Jones. “But then there’s a lot of people who thank me, because they just didn’t realize until somebody said it, and I’ve always felt you don’t need to learn the hard way. I’ve had bosses and people I’ve worked with who said, ‘I had to learn the hard way, so you do too’ but there’s enough stuff to learn — let’s focus on helping each other.”
Animal rescue, especially to the degree Jones takes it, is not an easy road. They deal with things on a constant basis that emotionally, mentally and physically drain you and push you to your limits.
“There are a lot of irresponsible people out there who don’t believe in spay and neuter, and people who will just dump their animals,” she said. “If only they saw those terrified animals cowered in the corner … it’s heartbreaking.
“About half the animals at the shelter are owner surrenders. I remember we had one person who gave up their dog because they changed their furniture and he no longer matched their furniture,” said Jones.
When asked how she maintains her mental health while dealing with so much ignorance, suffering and death, Jones said she didn’t know.
“Whatever it takes. That’s what rescues do,” she said. “It’s whatever it takes, but they can only do so much — we need the community’s help. Spay, neuter and vaccinate. If people did those things, we could really reduce the problem here.”
Animal rescue is not all doom and gloom though. Jones said saving animals and getting them into forever homes is rewarding and makes all the hardship worth it.
“I’ve got five getting adopted today, which I’m so glad about,” she said. “Every once in a while, people will send me update photos. I never ask for them, but when you do get updates it’s amazing seeing them happy and in good homes.
“If I can save one animal, it makes a big difference. The hardest part is knowing you can’t save them all, but the ones you do save and find homes for, like the five that got adopted today, they’re going to have the best home,” Jones said grinning from ear to ear.
Mugan said she didn’t have the words to describe how big of an impact Jones has had on animal welfare in the county.
“She just keeps going. All the ones she’s gotten placed in forever homes … there’s no telling how many. She goes above and beyond and is a huge part of the shelter,” said Mugan. “She’s always been one we can call on at the last minute if something is needed. There’s been days where she spent her entire day at the shelter cleaning and there have been some times that if I were her in that situation, I don’t know if I could have kept going.”
“I’m just following my passion,” said Jones. “When I go into something, I go with both feet in.”
Jones said she hopes her story inspires more people to volunteer at the shelter or foster animals.
“Volunteers make a huge difference. That’s how the animals get socialized and how the dogs get walked so please apply to the shelter. They do a brief background check and they only ask for eight hours a month,” said Jones. “Fostering is so rewarding too because you’re freeing up space at the shelter and saving lives.”
Mugan has a lot of respect for Jones and is glad she is being recognized as the News-Bulletin’s Citizen of the Year.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know what it takes to stick with it,” said Mugan. “At a time when it seems like there’s less and less people in the world who make things happen, she’s always been one to follow through.”
Jones said receiving this recognition is a bit daunting, but she hopes it helps get the word out to the community to spay and neuter, and to help in whatever capacity you can to save the lives of our furry friends, whether it be through donating, volunteering or sharing information and resources to those who need to hear it.
“Thank you rescues, shelter staff and thank you volunteers,” said Jones. “We’ve got to work together to save the animals. We’ve also got to change the rules; we can turn this around if people work together.”
If you would like to donate to All for Animals, you can donate on PayPal here or mail checks to:
All For Animals NM, c/o Lee Matthews, P.O Box 3170, Los Lunas NM 87031.
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.