(Editor’s note: As of Thursday, Dec. 19, the Valencia County Animal Shelter has distributed all 850 vouchers for the launch of it’s free spay and neuter program. Valencia County Animal Shelter director Jess Weston said the program is on hold until the local veterinarians can complete the procedures. He advised residents in need of spay and neuter services to watch the shelter’s Facebook page – Volunteers of the Valencia County Animal Shelter – for information about the program.)
On the day the Valencia County Animal Shelter announced its new, free spay and neuter voucher program 135 vouchers were claimed.
“The lobby was nonstop packed on Tuesday (the day the program was launched), and on Wednesday morning, there was a line at the gate,” said Jess Weston, Valencia County Animal Control director. “We have good, responsible pet owners who just don’t have the financial resources to take care of them like they should. This will make a huge difference for animal welfare in the county.”
The voucher will cover the sterilization procedure, as well as a basic exam of the animal, rabies shot and a microchip, if needed.
There are five Valencia County veterinarians participating in the voucher program — Vetco, Arrow Animal Hospital and Sun Ranch Pet Hospital in Los Lunas; Bosque Animal Hospital in Bosque Farms, and Valencia Animal Clinic in Belen.
When residents pick up their vouchers, staff will provide them with contact information for all five clinics so they can schedule an appointment for their pet.
The voucher program is for Valencia County residents only, and proof of residence is required — a driver’s license or current utility bill. Proof of income is not required and pets do not need to be brought to the shelter to receive a voucher.
Weston said all the vets in the county were approached about participating in the voucher program.
“Some have busier schedules; these guys have some extra time, space and resources,” he said.
The county negotiated a discounted rate for the spay and neuter procedures ranging from $140 to $200 each, the director said. The rate varies depending on factors, such as whether the animal is a dog or a cat, or if it is already pregnant, Weston said.
“The vets will treat each pet and owner like any other clients, and there may be additional services the voucher won’t cover,” he said. “If it’s an older animal, for instance, older than 10 years, the vet might want to do blood work before surgery. In that case, the owner would foot the bill.”
Aftercare related to the surgery is included, but anything beyond that is the responsibility of the owner, Weston said.
As big of a step forward as the voucher program is, Weston said it’s a temporary plan while the county continues to set up its own spay/neuter program, complete with an in-house vet and on site clinic.
“This was a way to get the program up and running while we’re looking for a vet. With one vet here five days a week, we’re limited to the number of vouchers,” he said. “This way, we get five times the surgeries. It’s huge and it’s going to work; I can’t wait to see the results. Since day one, we’ve been looking at spay/neuter, but where can we get the money?”
After years of meetings, Legislative sessions, applying for grants and shaking the bushes for private donors, local legislators, Reps. Kelly Fajardo and Alonzo Baldonado, and Sen. Greg Baca, helped push through two funding bills in the 2019 Legislative session.
The $595,000 allocated to fund a spay and neuter program in the county is available this fiscal year and in the 2020 year.
In addition to the vouchers to launch the program, the county is purchasing surgical equipment for the clinic building at the shelter to get it operational.
While the ultimate goal is a full-time vet and technician, the director is realistic about the future.
“We don’t have that funding on an ongoing basis. We’ve approached the legislators, the commission members and, as of right now, we don’t have an answer,” Weston said.
A ballpark figure for a full time veterinarian, vet tech and surgical supplies just for spay/neuter procedures is about $200,000 a year, Weston said.
“We hope we can find a way to cover operational costs down the road,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, but we have to find the money somewhere.”
The Valencia County Animal Shelter, 1209 N.M. 314, Los Lunas, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
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.