The public has recently been allowed back into the city of Roswell’s animal shelter, and visitors might notice a few changes such as the fresh coat of paint in the reception area and new uniforms for animal control officers. It’s part of a shift to make the department more customer service-oriented and streamline operations, its directors say.
COVID-safe practices are in effect for the public, such as wearing a face mask and limiting visitation in the kennel areas, interim Animal Services supervisor Megan Telles said.
“We’re doing one group. So your family comes in, you guys are the only ones in the kennel for the time being,” she said.
“We’re asking people not to touch the kennels and things like that. We can bring the dogs up for them, but they can walk through and see what they want to see,” she said.
“We’re trying to give people options, especially with COVID. Some people don’t want to come in, some don’t want to be back there with everybody else,” she said.
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Those options include daily posts to the Roswell Animal Services Facebook page with photos and descriptions of animals in the shelter and when they will be available for adoption.
The department is also working on installing a video monitor in the lobby that will show the animals in the shelter.
“You could sit in the lobby or while you’re waiting with the next group to let you in the kennels” and see the animals, Telles said.
Many of the changes have come since April, when Animal Services was moved from the Roswell Police Department to Special Services and Parks under the direction of Jim Burress. Telles, who was kennel supervisor prior to the reorganization, was made interim supervisor at that time.
Burress said the move just made sense. With the Spring River Zoo already in his department, vendors for food and veterinary care can be shared.
“The police are busy with other things. That just frees up their time to go do their thing,” he said. “I get to do the animals and they get to do the bad guys.”
Burress said he’s also tried to make improvements for the Animal Services staff.
“We’re just trying to listen to the employees, get information, different concepts as far as budget goes, more time,” he said.
Even little things, like the uniforms and a new microwave for the office, have made a difference, he said.
“I’ve had the opportunity to help with needs for both the staff and the public,” he said.
“We’re going to focus on processes, procedures, consistency, training,” he said.
The Best Friends Society has recently helped by providing some virtual training for staff on handling animals, particularly in working with kittens.
The Utah-based group also donated some equipment and even donated money to allow for 11 cats to be microchipped and vaccinated and made available for a $1 adoption fee.
Staff training includes not just working with the animals, but also how the animal control officers fill out paperwork, working with other city departments or appearing in court when necessary.
“We work closely with Code Enforcement. When they write a citation, they have different paperwork than animal control has when they write a citation,” Burress said.
Telles said the department is also working on improving the image of Animal Services and especially its four animal control officers.
“They get negative press. They’re always the bad guy because when they get called out, there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. So we’re trying to push more of a public relations kind of situation where we can reach out to the public and help them,” she said.
Adoption events are one way of reaching that goal. Animal Services has tried virtual events but has had more success with in-person events, such as at the downtown Farmers’ Market over the summer.
Burress and Telles are also trying to improve relations with animal rescue groups in the area. They had their first meeting earlier this week.
Working with the rescue groups is something the police department really didn’t have time for,” Burress said.
“We have more of an opportunity to visit one-on-one with everyone in a non-formal way,” he said.
Sammy Leflar of Friends of Roswell Animals said the rescue group appreciates the more open lines of communication and has already seen some benefit.
The group pulls animals from the Roswell shelter to transport to Colorado animal rescue groups for possible adoptions.
Animals must be kept for four days to allow an owner to reclaim them. On the fifth day, they can be put up for adoption, and rescue groups can take them that day, Telles said.
Often, the Colorado groups will ask FORA to get more information or even videos of animals, which the Animal Services staff would then get.
“One of the things we did talk about was they’ve been a little bit short-staffed down there,” Leflar said of the city animal shelter. “Now they’re going to allow rescue to come in and do videos as well.”
Volunteers have also been allowed to return to the shelter. Telles said that’s important in helping the animals become socialized and more likely to be adopted.
“That’s something we also kind of pulled back on for a while there, but we’re definitely still wanting those,” she said.
Volunteers can clean kennels, walk dogs at the shelter’s outdoor area or work with cats who need a bit of attention, she said.
“We really appreciate people who want to come clean, but if you don’t want to clean and you just want to help us socialize some of these not-so-social animals so they get homes, that’s awesome,” she said.
One other project still in the works is a surgical suite so animals can be spayed and neutered on site. FORA raised $10,000 dollars to purchase equipment.
Telles — a former veterinary technician — said she had a director from the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine walk through and help determine what equipment is still needed. The surgical suite will also have to pass inspection before it can go into operation, and Telles said she hopes to work with area veterinarians who would donate their time to perform the surgeries.
A trap-neuter-release program to control feral cat populations is something both Telles and Leflar said they would also like to see in Roswell. The coronavirus pandemic has put a hold on that, Telles said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or email@example.com.