Courier staff writer
MONTE VISTA — A certified regional animal shelter could help Valley dogs from all barks of life.
On Monday morning, Cheryl Santi, Colette Skeff and Ray Skeff, all on behalf of the Upper Rio Grande Animal Society (URGAS), asked the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (SLVCCS) for a letter in support of a roughly $1.3 million United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant to expand the Conour Animal Shelter into a regional animal shelter. The endorsement decision was tabled until a later date to allow discussion to continue at an individual county level.
The grant would build a “better structure to better manage the animal population and provide better isolation and separation to improve the overall animal health,” according to the URGAS request letter submitted to the SLVCCA. It would also allow the shelter to assist all of the Valley counties on its 11-acre property. Today, it is barely able to provide ample services to less then half of the dog population, even when taking over 70 animals at one time, which is twice the facility’s capacity.
“There are no other certified shelters in the San Luis Valley,” Santi said. “We are making do with what we have... It is really hard. We see abused dogs, dogs picked up on the street and dogs that are hungry.”
The shelter’s present condition is not suitable to earn regional animal shelter status, according to the request letter. It is not designed to separate the animals to prevent the spread of disease, which puts other animals at risk. There is not adequate space for permanent quarantine and birthing rooms, often forcing staff to care for such animals near the healthy dogs up for adoption.
“The staff uses extreme caution to control the spread of disease when these situations arise,” the request letter stated. “The design of the new building is critical to the operational success of the shelter to minimize the risk of disease transmission and reduce stress on both the animals and the staff.”
URGAS intends to turn the potential grant funded opportunity into a sustainable and independent business, according to the request letter and the URGAS representatives. They are developing a “long-range plan for an Animal Care Park in an effort to become self-funded, certain revenue producing segments such as animal daycare/boarding facility, training of service/companion dogs, obedience training, pet grooming.”
“If we all pull together, we can have an amazing place,” said Colette, who with her husband, Ray, has been devoting long hours and private funding to the shelter to keep it up and running. “We love the dogs.”
Plans also include an animal play park and a pet cemetery to complement the crematory that is helping many say goodbye to their pets while allowing the shelter to efficiently dispose of the euthanized.
“The crematory has helped us with day to day expenses,” Santi said.
Ray added, “Right now, we are not at full capacity, but it will come.”
Commissioners were concerned about the need for a cat shelter, and learned that it requires replicating the dog operation nearly in its entirety.
“We are not against it, but we have to make a choice,” Ray said. “Cats don’t cause as many problems on the street.”
Alamosa County Commissioner Darius Allen said he recognized the shelter needs upgrades, but wanted to further understand how the shelter would generate sufficient future revenue to upkeep the renovations.
“I feel there is a real need,” Allen said. “We have tried over and over again.”
Alamosa County Commissioner Marianne Dunne added, “A certified adoption shelter would be important to the Valley... I think it is really needed. I would endorse it. I think it would work.”
URGAS is also considering offering Trinidad State Junior College (TSJC) the opportunity to develop a program based on animal shelter care and training, and connect with all other Valley animal rescue units, Santi said.
The Rio Grande County Commissioners voted to support the effort earlier this month.