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By Bill Diven

It wasn’t fur flying at the doggie park although cats might have been amused watching Sandoval County commissioners wrangle over kennel space for stray dogs.

The contract approved at a recent commission meeting calls for spending $142,000 on a climate-controlled, 10-pen indoor/outdoor kennel to help handle the growing number of strays picked up by animal control officers. That would go with a similar seven-pen kennel that opened in February 2021 to replace a battered structure in San Ysidro.

While calling himself an animal lover and conceding he might upset other friends of animals, Commissioner Kenneth Eichwald, (D-Cuba) questioned the county’s priorities.

“We have people that don’t have climate control in their houses, yet here we are providing climate control for dogs and cats and horses and everybody else,” he said. “And yet we’re going to spend $142,000 doing this, and it’s just a temporary facility if I’m not mistaken.

“We’re looking at another facility going somewhere else.”

The two kennels are considered a stopgap as the county set out nearly two years ago to develop its first animal shelter but has struggled to close deals on two potential sites in the Placitas area. The plan still envisions a public-private partnership with a 24-hour public veterinary clinic and affiliation with a veterinary college to provide practical training for students.

Currently the City of Rio Rancho operates the only public shelter in the county. Sandoval County, through its Community Services Department and operating with a no-kill philosophy, has relied on volunteers to foster animals for adoption and shelters in other counties.

Most impounded dogs arriving at the kennel are returned to their owners or placed with cooperating shelters, according to the department website. Cats bypass the kennels but are held in similar safe conditions.

Once a shelter opens, the temporary kennels may be used elsewhere in the county, county officials have said.

While Commissioner Jay Block (R-Rio Rancho) said he agreed with Eichwald’s comments, he also called the county’s now-closed kennel in San Ysidro “disgusting.” Commissioner David Heil (R-Rio Rancho), however, suggested they were missing the bigger picture.

“You two sound like we don’t do anything else except for the animals,” he said, adding the county spends millions on Community Services programs related to homelessness, behavioral health, health care and senior citizens. “This is a pittance compared to what we spend on services to people in the community.”

Commissioner Katherine Bruch, (D-Placitas) said that while she recognized Eichwald’s frustration, the shelter would be a service to both animals and people.

“We have been negligent, in my opinion, over many years with animal welfare, and we are expanding now based on need to another temporary shelter facility,” she said. “We are now spending based on needing a temporary shelter.”

Bruch later told the Signpost a third shelter site is now under consideration although no deal has been completed.

Ultimately all five commissioners voted to award the kennel contract to Horizon Structures LLC of Atglen, Penna., one of two bidders for the project. On its website, Horizon describes itself as a 21-year-old company employing Amish carpenters to produce structures from backyard chicken coops to large barns.

An updated cost estimate for the shelter affected by inflation and construction-industry issues has yet to be released. A list of county project priorities released earlier this year estimated the cost nears $7 million with much of that funding in hand.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury included $1.5 million for the shelter among $18 million in approved projects she sponsored for her Congressional district in a recent federal spending bill.

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