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Going the distance to save borderland dogs

By: Genevieve Curtis

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Borderland dogs are bound for new homes hundreds of miles from their current residence at the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley. The shelter takes its dogs on the road to find them homes and to save the lives of other pets.

This year, around 1,700 dogs and puppies will leave the shelter and find their permanent home in cities like Phoenix, Denver and San Diego.

"They take our animals and they find homes for them," said Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock, the veterinarian at the shelter. That's because those cities are so far advanced with spaying, neutering and responsible pet ownership that they have a shortage of animals for adoption.

"There are just not enough homes for these animals and there are other communities that have been very  responsible and have been doing a lot of very progressive programs for many, many, years and they need animals. They need puppies, they need animals," said Vesco-Mock.

Dona Ana County has one of the highest rates of intake in the country.  Vesco-Mock said  it takes in around 13,000 a year and this year will adopt out 2,400.

"If you do the math, it's still not good for our animals," she said.

So in order to keep from putting so many pets down, staff members take loads of lovable pets on the road. Vesco-Mock vaccinates, spays or neuters every single one of them before they depart.

That in turn, frees up more space in the shelter for other animals.

"There are moves to make now. We call it the shelter shuffle. We've got to do the shelter shuffle every night to make room to save lives," said Vesco-Mock.

Tuesday morning, workers packed up 30 dogs and puppies headed for Phoenix.

"I would venture to say all 30 will be adopted next weekend and they would sit here (shelter) forever," said Vesco-Mock. The shelter there recently received a grant and will be paying for the gas. Vesco-Mock said this is the first time in five years of transporting dogs that the shelter is being paid to do it.

But she says it's worth it to get the animals adopted.

Vesco-Mock said other big cities have made major advances in reducing the number of unwanted pets, so she had to be creative too.

To put it in perspective, Vesco-Mock said that many progressive shelters in cities across the country get one or two litters of puppies a year, but ASCMV gets a litter a day.

"They are just very progressive. You cannot out-adopt. I cannot out-adopt and I cannot  out-rescue this problem. I just can't do it. So we have to be very, very progressive," she said.

The shelter is working on getting a transporting vehicle so workers can travel even further to places in the Northeast or Midwest.

In the last five years, Vesco-Mock has cut the euthanasia rate by about a third from 75 percent to around 42 percent.

"The transports have contributed heavily, heavily, towards that decrease in euthanasia," said Vesco-Mock.

Vesco-Mock said other communities do a better job of offering educational programs, affordable medical care and affordable spaying and  neutering.

The more animals transported, the less that end up being put down.

"When there are no open cages. There's no shuffle to be made. The shuffle is to the 'blue room,' end of story. There are no options. Now, we have options and that's very, very exciting," said Vesco-Mock.

The City of El Paso's Animal Services Shelter is consistently euthanizing at about a 70 percent rate, and it does not currently transport any animals but a spokesperson said it's something they are looking into doing.

Vesco-Mock said donating to the ASCMV helps with these transports to save animal lives.



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