Beyond shelter: DACHS finds new focus in programs
By Mike Cook
The Las Cruces Bulletin
“If we’re not a shelter, what do we do?”
That was the question board members and volunteers of the Doña Ana County Humane Society (DACHS) asked themselves after DACHS gave up the operation of the county animal shelter in 2008.
The nonprofit examined “areas of need not being met by other animal welfare organizations” in the county and came up with three programs to fulfill DACHS’ mission to “keep people and pets together,” said DACHS Executive Director Kathy Lawitz – the Animal Relief Fund (ARF), Pets for Seniors and Ruff to Ready.
ARF allows DACHS to help low-income residents of the county pay for veterinary care for their pets, Lawitz said, which is something no other organization in southern New Mexico is doing. People whose incomes meet WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and children) income eligibility guidelines can qualify for vouchers accepted at most veterinary offices in the county to help pay for emergency and quality- of-life medical care for their pets, according to a DACHS brochure. To qualify for ARF, county residents need to bring a photo ID and proof of income, along with their most recent income tax return to the DACHS office, 2405 W. Picacho Ave., Suite 103 (right next to the Spay Neuter Action Program [SNAP]), and directly across the street from Peddlers Pavilion. Proof of income can include any one form of documentation, such as food stamps eligibility, Medicaid, full-time student receiving financial aid, retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD).
Those who qualify for ARF must provide a $50 co-pay, which covers up to $250 in veterinary expenses. A second voucher of up to $250 can be purchased if the estimate for care from the veterinarian providing service is more than $250, according to the brochure. ARF eligibility is allowed only once per year per household.
Since 2010, the ARF program has provided services to more than 700 pets, Lawitz said.
Through the Pets for Seniors program, DACHS provides a $50 discount voucher for anyone over the age of 60 to adopt a pet from the Animal Control Services Center of the Mesilla Valley, which is the city and county’s animal shelter.
The cost of pet adoptions at the shelter is $50 for a cat and $75 for a dog. The shelter fee includes pre-adoption veterinary exams, initial vaccinations, spaying or neutering and microchipping.
The voucher is also worth $50 for anyone who adopts a pet from Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, where adoption fees are $50 for cats, $75 for kittens six months old or younger and $85 for dogs.
The program offers an additional $25 discount for seniors who adopt a dog that is five years old or older, Lawitz said. DACHS also offers free dog training for anyone who adopts a dog through Pets for Seniors. There is no income limit to qualify.
To apply for a Pets for Seniors voucher, download the application at DACHS’ website, www.dachslc.org, or pick one up at the DACHS office.
Lawitz said more than 500 pets have been adopted through the Pets for Seniors program to date.
Through the Ruff to Ready program, DACHS provides free training to anyone who adopts a dog from the shelter.
Since almost half the dogs adopted from the shelter have behavioral problems — such as excessive barking, biting, shyness, jumping on people and aggression issues with people and other animals — they are often returned to the shelter shortly after being adopted, Lawitz said. During the first nine months of 2015, she said, 70 adopted dogs received training through Rough to Ready, and only six were returned to the shelter. That means the program may have saved the lives of 64 shelter dogs.
Rough to Ready provides basic behavior training to dogs and new owners. “We hired a really, really good dog trainer [Hope Movsesian],” Lawitz said.
Movsesian makes two free in-home visits to do an assessment of the dog, conducts training to correct the dog’s problem behaviors and helps the owner learn to work with and communicate with the dog. She also provides additional information as needed.
Lawitz said the shelter refers people who adopt dogs to DACHS to sign up for Rough and Ready.
DACHS founded the first local animal shelter in 1955, which it continued to operate for 53 years. Today, it shares office space with the county SNAP, which means people who qualify can make one stop for services. The two programs also share the services of administrative assistant Linda Hickey, “who works for both organizations (and) is our only fluent Spanish speaker, so she bounces back and forth between the two offices whenever translation is needed,” Lawitz said.
Apart from her DACHS duties, Lawitz also manages a registered colony of feral cats. The colony had six cats five to six years ago, which she fed and paid to have neutered and tagged. Today, there is only one cat left in the colony, a brown tabby Lawitz named “Bengal,” who she continues to feed and keep healthy.
The program also maintains the Alicia Melgaard Memorial Pet Cemetery, which DACHS has owned and operated since the mid-1980s, according to DACHS’ annual report. The cemetery is located on the East Mesa, about seven miles east of Las Cruces.
Lawitz said DACHS needs community support for all its programs, and especially would like to receive financial donations to build its animal relief fund. Its greatest volunteer need is for a grant writer, she said.
DACHS is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. You can purchase tee shirts with the DACHS slogan “Keeping people and pets together” at their office, 2405 W. Picacho Ave., Suite 103. Call 642-2648. Visit dachslc@hotmail. com.