Laurie Manzano with Romero,an older cat with an attitude and one of many cats looking for a new home. Photo by LCGross.
Home » Business » The Struggles of Sheltering Animals in Rural Gila County

The Struggles of Sheltering Animals in Rural Gila County

STORY UPDATE: As the paper was going to press, we learned Megan has resigned as director of Cat House, and Laurie Manzano is serving unpaid as acting director until a new director can be hired.

Any animal who ends up at an animal shelter has a story to tell. Perhaps its previous home was overcrowded with animals, and the owner was forced to let go of some pets.

Oftentimes, people surrender their pets to shelters because they’re moving, and pets aren’t allowed in their new homes.

“I’ve seen grown men cry because they can’t keep their dog,” says Cheryl Brazell, who has been president of the High Desert Humane Society since its reorganization 12 years ago.

Sometimes animals are simply abandoned, like the puppies who were left alone in a crate in Dripping Springs during the Telegraph Fire. Four of the seven puppies survived and were taken in by High Desert’s dog rescue.

On the other hand, well-meaning people will stumble upon litters from feral (wild) animals, especially litters of kittens, and assume the young animals need to be taken to a shelter, not realizing the mother will return to care for her young.

The greatest challenge is meeting the demand to shelter and adopt out all these animals in rural Gila County – from Globe, Miami, and San Carlos to Roosevelt and Tonto Basin. There are only two locations to take them locally: High Desert Humane Society in downtown Globe, or Gila County’s Animal Care and Control Division, which just opened a new facility at the county fairgrounds.

Laurie Manzano (L) has found herself helping out the cat rescue again despite crippling pain in her hips and joints. Now in her late 70s, Manzano continues to foster kittens that need extra care at her home, paying for food, litter, and supplies out of her pocket, Ann, a volunteer who drives from Florence quit coming under the former Director but is back helping Manzano and the Cat Rescue until a new Director can be found. Photo by LCGross

High Desert cycles roughly 170 dogs and 200 cats through its shelters each year, Brazell estimates. This doesn’t include the 500 or so feral cats who have gone through High Desert’s “Trap-Neuter-Release” program since 2019. The program helps members of the community catch feral cats, have them altered and return them to the neighborhood they came from.

(Unless socialized with humans as a kitten, a feral cat is nearly impossible to handle enough to ever become a household pet, and neither High Desert nor Animal Care and Control can successfully adopt these animals out. Trap-neuter-release is the next best option.)

High Desert’s dog and cat rescues are intended to hold about 35 animals at a time each. When this article was being written, both shelters were full­.

In July, High Desert’s cat rescue, nicknamed Cat House, was housing 56 cats. Thanks to guidance from the former director, Cheryle Mariscal, who resigned earlier this year after holding the position since July 2019, the new director of Cat House brought the population down by reducing cat adoption fees from $40 to $5. The fees include vaccinations and alterations.

“We need to have a [population] limit so we can offer better care for the animals, rather than taking too many, and then some end up suffering,” says Megan Chism, who took over as director of Cat House in April.

The High Desert Humane Society is operating out of a 5000 sq ft historic building on Mesquite street having turned the back yard space into dog runs, with a thrift shop in the front and living space above. Photo by LCGross

Overcrowding can lead to the spread of highly contagious illnesses and parasites in shelters, ranging from ringworm to parvovirus to upper respiratory infections.

“Cats died there at the shelter,” Mariscal says, recalling her time spent as director at Cat House. “Some of them were so sick, even after trying to save them for months.”

It’s also increasingly difficult to keep a shelter clean in overcrowded conditions.

On numerous occasions during high occupancy, Cat House has struggled with sanitation issues and complaints about smells. Globe local Laurie Manzano stepped in on numerous occasions in the past to help clean up the building. At one point, Cat House was holding up to 90 cats without enough cages for them all; they were left to roam freely.

“It was filthy there,” Manzano recalls.

Prior to Cat House’s inception, Manzano housed and cared for High Desert’s cats in her art gallery, the Blue Mule, in downtown Globe.

Cat House is in a better place now. Cats no longer roam the building freely. 

Now that Cat House is just at capacity, Chism hopes to keep things this way. People get angry when the shelter refuses an animal, she says, yet preventing overcrowding of the shelter is critical for its survival.

“It’s not easy or cheap to take care of this many animals,” she says.

At Animal Care and Control, the requirements to surrender an animal are more stringent. If a person has fed an animal for more than six days, that person is considered the owner, and Animal Care and Control is unlikely to take the animal.   

The organization is particularly pressing dog owners to not “surrender” their dogs.

“We’re trying to make owners more liable for their dogs,” department head John Castaneda says.

Last year, the organization reunited hundreds of animals with their owners. They impounded another 400 animals. Many were transferred to the Valley to prevent overpopulation, and between 40 and 50 were adopted out, according to Castaneda.

The new dog kennels at the Gila County Animal Control are designed to make cleaning easy.  Photo by Jenn Walker.

As it is, they have often been full, he says.

Ideally, Animal Care and Control should always have space to house animals, especially in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, like the fires and floods that occurred this summer.

Sometimes, shelters don’t have a choice, though. People have been known to drop off animals outside Animal Care and Control and High Desert shelters in the middle of the night.

This doesn’t always end well. Last winter, volunteers showed up to Cat House one morning to find dead kittens at the door; they were too young to regulate their body temperature in the cold without the warmth of their mother.

“People think they are doing the right thing,” says Manzano.

Actually, abandoning an animal that you have been caring for is a criminal offense, punishable by Arizona state law.

Manzano is all too familiar with abandonment stories. During her 12 years running the Blue Mule Art Gallery, she cared for approximately 1,700 cats. People constantly abandoned cats at her front door.    

Manzano, who is 76 now and struggles with physical ailments, resumed fostering kittens for Cat House within the last couple of years – even kittens with ringworm and upper respiratory infections. Any expenses for food, treatment, or supplies come out of her pocket. Kittens are highly dependent upon their mothers and need frequent, specialized care (even more so when they’re sick), and Cat House doesn’t have the staffing to bottle-feed and tend to kittens around the clock.    

Beyond time-consuming, caring for kittens, and for animals in general, is costly.

Between getting an animal spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, treated for any ailments, and transported, High Desert may spend as much as $3,000 to $4,000 on a vet bill for a single animal.

To make ends meet, the nonprofit relies on revenue from its thrift and furniture stores in downtown Globe, financial support from United Fund and Southwest Gas, adoption fees, cash donations, and fundraisers. However, the nonprofit hasn’t been able to hold any fundraisers or auctions as of late.

“We are struggling, yet managing, to stay in the black through COVID, fires, and floods,” Brazell says.

In addition to cash donations, food and other tangible donations help keep the nonprofit afloat. Southwest Gas recently donated an air-conditioned truck for High Desert to transport animals.

This is especially critical, because High Desert relies on a contracted veterinarian in Thatcher to provide animal health services.

“It was much simpler when we just worked with Jeff,” Manzano recalls, referring to when High Desert used to work directly with Jeff Eubank at Samaritan Veterinary Care, the only veterinary center currently in the area.

Animal Care and Control continue to work with Dr. Eubank for veterinary services.

Building maintenance is yet another expense. Having the proper facility and amenities to accommodate all these animals is critical.

New cat cages at the county facility. Photo by Jenn Walker.

Animal Care and Control were blessed with a new $2.8 million facility last month after years of operating out of a building constructed in the early 1970s. The former location offered 18 kennels, while the new, larger facility includes 27 kennels, 10 cat cages, and a “catio.” At the time this article was going to press, within a week of the facility’s grand opening, nine of the 27 dog kennels had been filled.

The new location makes cleaning and sanitizing much easier, says Castaneda, providing more space and a high-pressure wash system. Cameras are mounted around the facility to prevent people from abandoning animals there.

The funding for the facility came from the county’s $10 million Capital Investment Plan bond that the Gila County Board of Supervisors allocated for several county projects. 

High Desert could benefit from new facilities and amenities.

“We’re going to have to bite the bullet,” Brazell says. “We need building repairs and rescue repairs.”

For instance, the dog rescue has a yard that doesn’t drain well, which has meant muddy dog kennels during the monsoons.

This has caused concern among some, including Trina Becksted, who purchased the old green bank building at Mesquite and Broad Street with her husband last March. The building is directly across the street from High Desert’s thrift store, which also functions as the dog shelter.

“[I] want to emphasize the plight of [these] dogs in these hot, outdoor, humid conditions [with] mud flooding into their crate areas,” she says. “These dogs are just not happy.”

High Desert does care for these dogs… They’re really good people,” she adds. I want to be part of the solution here.”

Supervisor Tim Humphrey and JC Castenda cut the ribbon on the new facility. Courtesy Photo.

In Becksted’s opinion, the dog rescue has outgrown the space in the thrift store. She advocates for the dog rescue to obtain a new, larger facility that would provide climate-controlled, indoor space for the dogs.

“How can we rally support?” she asks. “Let’s get some volunteers. Let’s have fundraisers.”

Brazell acknowledges the problems at the dog rescue. At the moment, she says, since High Desert can’t afford concrete inside all of the kennels, the nonprofit is working to put pavers inside each.

Cat House has its own facility issues. It’s difficult to quarantine sick cats from healthy cats, Manzano points out.

Both High Desert’s cat and dog rescue facilities also need air conditioning.

In addition to facility costs, the nonprofit’s budget pays six directors and two assistant directors. The pay doesn’t amount to much; it’s certainly not enough to live on, says Brazell.

As this article was being written, Brazell and the board were planning to discuss salary increases for directors at their next meeting.

“We’re not going to keep people if we don’t,” Brazell says. “These people are going to eventually say, ‘I have to get a real job and make money.’”

Mariscal, who has many cats of her own at home and suffers from MS, had already retired when she assumed the position of Cat House director in 2019. Eventually, she just couldn’t handle the emotional and physical toll that the work was taking on her.

“Seven days I was coming in to clean,” she says. “I would think, ‘My body hurts, I can’t move.’”

She was putting in as many as 70 hours a week.

The dog and cat shelter directors ensure the animals are vaccinated and in good health, eating, and altered when the time comes. Additionally, directors track which animals have been adopted and remind owners to bring in their animals to get altered once they are of age.

“The challenges I had became more and more overwhelming,” Mariscal recalls.

The last straw was when she had to bury yet another kitten that died.

Meanwhile, Animal Care and Control has been understaffed throughout the summer. The organization has been relying on just four people, including Castaneda. One officer has been handling calls on the north side of the county (Payson, Strawberry, Pine, and Punkin Center). The other three have handled the rest.

With the summer heat, the team has been busy answering dog neglect calls – owners leaving dogs in their cars in the heat or not providing water. This left one employee available to care for the animals at the facility, which includes watering, feeding, washing, and handling.

Fortunately, the team is now in the process of training two new officers.

Additionally, Castaneda says the organization recently received approval to contract with Arizona’s Department of Corrections so inmates can assist with feeding the animals and cleaning.

There is “new blood” coming into High Desert as well. In addition to Chism, the dog rescue also got a new director, John Loos, this summer. Both Chism and Loos are young people who had previously been volunteers.

Loos showed up on his first day as director at 8 a.m. to a dog having just birthed puppies.

“There they were, brand new,” he laughs.

Young animal lovers give shelters some hope, Brazell says. 

 

Support High Desert at No Cost via Amazon

Did you know you can donate to High Desert Humane Society – at zero cost to you – by shopping at Amazon? Amazon has a program to donate a portion of your purchases to the charity of your choice.

Just type “smile.amazon.com” (instead of www.amazon.com) in your Internet browser and follow the directions. When it asks for the charity you’d like to use, search for The Humane Society of Southern Gila County. (It will show up as The Humane Society of Southern Gila County, Inc DBA Equine Humane at Crow Canyon.) 

From then on, you can shop as usual on Amazon, and Amazon will donate a portion of your purchases to High Desert.

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