LOS LUNAS — ʼTis the season of giving and spending time with those you love.

Patricia Tharaldsen, a Los Chavez resident, embodies this spirit of the holidays through an annual Thanksgiving feast she hosts for dogs and cats residing at the Valencia County Animal Shelter.

“What inspired me was the fact that they need loving, too,” said Tharaldsen. “They’re our companions, our friends and they’re always there for us.”

Tharaldsen, who has been a kennel tech at the VCAS for the past eight years, began this tradition seven years ago. She initially bought all the food out of her own pocket for the first couple of years, but has since been able to get everything through donations from the community.

“And boy did that workout,” Tharaldsen said with a chuckle. “Everybody has been so helpful with their donations, and people even from Albuquerque are coming here and donating because they love the idea so much. It really makes you feel good inside.”

This Thanksgiving, Tharaldsen fed more than 200 animals at the shelter with the help of a few volunteers. To make this happen, she spends two days leading up to Thanksgiving preparing and cooking mashed potatoes, stuffing, carrots, green beans, gravy and five shredded turkeys. She layers all this over bowls of dry dog and cat food and tops it off with a piece of dinner roll.

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos
Madison Hatch, a volunteer, and Patricia Tharaldsen, a kennel tech, serve Thanksgiving dinner to more than 200 animals at the Valencia County Animal Shelter.

“I put no spices in there whatsoever because it’s not good for their stomach — it’s too rich for them. So it’s kind of bland, but they appreciate it,” she said. “They don’t say thank you, but you can just tell from their eyes and their demeanor they enjoy it and, if they want seconds, they can have it because it’s Thanksgiving.”

As bowls are prepared, volunteers whisk them away on carts and deliver them throughout the shelter until every animal is fed. Tharaldsen then spends a good chunk of time cleaning after all the animals are done eating before she finally makes it home.

“There’s people that neglect them so bad and that’s the reason why they’re here, but it makes me feel good inside to know that there’s still some good people out there who want to help these animals,” said Tharaldsen. “There’s so much stupid stuff going on in the world right now and we need to get along. We really do, and helping the animals is a very good place to start.”

This is how Tharaldsen spends most of Thanksgiving day year after year, but she says it is time well spent.

“I haven’t cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for my old man for seven years now, but he doesn’t mind. I have a ham I cook when I get home, and sure, I celebrate Thanksgiving, but with these guys,” Tharaldsen said gesturing toward the shelter. “That’s my Thanksgiving.

Dogs and cats alike were treated to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner thanks to Patricia Tharaldsen and several volunteers.

“It’s worth it absolutely every year. Anybody who knows me knows for the past eight years that’s all I’ve been doing is giving my heart and soul to this place every single day. It makes my heart feel good and I know they’re fed well.”

Tharaldsen’s generosity extends past Thanksgiving. She has no children, so she usually works on the holidays so the employees with children can spend time with their families.

“My mom back in New Jersey taught me to love one another and if somebody is down, give them a hand,” said Tharaldsen. “These animals are down; they have no other place to go, so thank God for the shelter because now they don’t have to freeze out there at night time. They have fresh water and food everyday and sleep with a blanket. You know you can’t save them all, but I’m sure going to try.”

Tharaldsen would like to thank the community for their donations, which keeps this tradition going. She also thanks Patty Mugan for getting the word out about donations and All for Animals, a nonprofit organization, for their support.

To make a difference in the state of animal welfare in the county, Tharaldsen highly encouraged the community to get their pet spayed or neutered.

“Please spay and neuter your dogs or cats, it’s so important,” she said. “We have a clinic right next door that’s affordable. You just got to call and make an appointment with HART or here at the shelter by calling 505-866-2479,” she said.

The VCAS is also appreciative of donations, such as blankets, cat and dog food and cleaning supplies such as laundry detergent, bleach and dish soap. Donations can be dropped off or mailed to Valencia County Animal Shelter, 1209 N.M. 314, Los Lunas.

VCAS donation needs:

  • Bleach
  • Laundry detergent
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Dog and cat food
  • Cat litter
  • Paper towels
  • Canned puppy food
  • Small bites kitten and puppy food
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Dog and cat toys
  • Dog and cat treats
  • Puppy and kitten formula
  • Crates (plastic)
  • Lysol wipes
  • Dog and cat collars

(co.valencia.nm.us)

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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.