LOS LUNAS — The tuxedo cat seems mildly annoyed with Shannon Kmatz but finally holds still on the scale long enough for her to get its weight.

The fluffy, black-and-white feline is among the first “patients” at the Valencia County Animal Shelter’s spay and neuter clinic, which had it’s soft opening on Monday, Oct. 4.

Vet technicians who have volunteered their time for the day draw up medication doses for the waiting cats and dogs as Kmatz, president of Homeless Animal Rescue Team, a Valencia County animal rescue organization, and others check in and weigh the animals before surgery.

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
Shannon Kmatz, president of Homeless Animal Rescue Team of New Mexico, weighs a rescue cat in preparation for it to be sterilized at the Valencia County Animal Control spay and neuter clinic. The clinic has been a work-in-progress for many years and finally had it’s soft opening earlier this month, during which 60 animals were spayed or neutered.

“Today is mostly about making sure we have our procedures down, our process. Initially, the spay/neuter services will be for animals at the shelter and with some rescues, but it’s a beginning. This has been a long time coming,” Kmatz says with a grin.

When Jess Weston took the job of Valencia County Animal Control director in August 2016, the ability to offer spay and neuter services to the residents of Valencia County was at the top of his list.

“My main objective was to get some kind of spay/neuter services for the community. It’s been a huge battle, a huge passion of mine,” Weston said. “I spent a lot time in Santa Fe politicking and talking to legislators.

“The commissioners and county manager are tired of hearing from me. It’s all kind coming together and it’s amazing.

“It’s taken five years and we’re here, doing surgeries in our clinic. We’ve had nonprofits do it, but this is our clinic now and we are here to help our community and help our animals.”

The soft opening earlier this month was to make sure the facility was fully operational, Weston said, and while the surgeries are currently being done by contract veterinarians, Weston is still on the hunt for a full-time vet for the county.

“What we’ve encountered is a national shortage of vets looking for positions and the ones out who are interested get a premium on their pay,” he said. “Right now, available vets are few and far between. We are working with contract vets while we keep looking for the right person.”

Weston said the clinic is mainly performing in-house surgeries and rescues as it gets up and running. Consumable supplies, such as sutures and bandages, are being paid for by the Homeless Animal Rescue Team, and the county is paying for the veterinarian’s time.

“We want to get our protocols and procedures going smoothly, make sure the equipment is set up effectively,” he said. “Once that is done, we will start reaching out to low-income (pet) owners in our community to offer services.”

Weston hopes to begin offering spay and neuter services to residents at the beginning of next year.

“Obviously, the pandemic and the world we live in dictates some things, but that’s the goal,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction.”

During the 2019 Legislative session, funding in two bills, totaling $595,000 was awarded to the county for a spay and neuter program and had to be used in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years.

Weston said the county used a substantial part of the funding for spay and neuter vouchers in late 2019. Valencia County residents claimed the 850 vouchers offered in just two days.

“We also purchased about $100,000 in equipment,” he said. “There was old, outdated equipment but no one wanted to use it and we couldn’t get companies to service it. We bought surgery tables, spay and neuter packs, anesthesia machines and recovery equipment.”

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo
During the soft opening of the Valencia County Animal Control spay and neuter clinic, volunteers Stephanie Ross, Alexis Lafave and Shayla Marteney prepare medications for the animals and spay and neuter supplies.

Kmatz said the clinic is the result of a coalition of animal nonprofits organizations — HART, All for Animals and the Spay-Neuter Coalition of New Mexico — working with the county shelter staff and Weston, and the community as a whole.

The coalition of the three nonprofits and the county shelter will be collectively referred to as the Valencia County Spay and Neuter Assistance Partnership — VCSNAP.

“As the Valencia County Spay Neuter Assistance Partnership, we owe a huge thank you to our state representatives and state senator, our county commissioners, the leaders of HART-NM, Spay-Neuter Coalition, All For Animals and the staff at the Valencia County Animal Shelter,” said Kmatz. “We also want to thank the community for its patience in making this dream a reality.”

During the first three days of the soft opening of the clinic, VCSNAP sterilized 60 animals.

For questions about the program or to donate supplies to the shelter, call (505) 866-2479.

To continue this volunteer-based program, individuals and companies can donate via Paypal to [email protected] or mail a donation to HART NM at P.O. Box 267, Los Lunas, N.M., 87031. Note the donation is “For VCSNAP” and make checks payable to HART.

Scheduling for spay and neuter services for Valencia County residents at the clinic will be available online through HARTNM.com in the near future.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.