3 Questions

3 Questions

with Santa Fe Animal Shelter CEO Jack Hagerman

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society recently announced a new top dog: Jack Hagerman, 45, took over this month as chief executive officer, replacing Director Dr. Jennifer Steketee, who recently retired (Hagerman has a different title, but basically the same job). He comes to Santa Fe from Pasadena Humane, where he served as vice president of operations and community engagement, but his advocacy for animals began as a child when he would take in rescues. He also spent four years running a livestock conservancy he co-founded in the Midwest, caring for and rehabilitating more than 400 animals and selling organic chicken eggs to help sustain operations. In California, Hagerman also wrote a weekly column about animals for the Pasadena Star-News, which is how we learned about the cat named Stubbs who once served as mayor for Talkeetna, Alaska. The following interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

I understand you and your partner Andrew have two older dachshunds. Will you tell me about them?

Oliver and Madeleine, and they run the household. Our life revolves around them and their routines. They’re very, very old: Maddy is going on 18 and Ollie is going on 17 and you wouldn’t know it. Aside from the fact that they just sleep a lot, they look and act like 2-year-old puppies. Maddie is a neurotic mess, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She views herself as a vicious Great Dane. Ollie is deaf and blind so he tends to bump into things a lot, but he’s very polite. They’re my babies. I’ve had them both since they were puppies.

How did the pandemic impact animal shelters and has it changed how you’re thinking about animal welfare?

At the beginning of the pandemic, when we had to close our doors…we put out a plea to the community and said, ‘we need to get as many animals in foster as we can,’ and the really happy surprise was the community really stepped up…in communities across the country. We started to see a pretty dramatic shift in how we were caring for animals. In the 1930s, we started putting humans in foster homes because we realized orphanages are really bad for development and children do better in a home, even if it’s temporary. We probably should have followed suit in the 1930s with animal welfare. So the pandemic really kicked into high gear this idea that animals do better in homes. And…we saw an increased interest in adoption and an increased interest in adopting traditionally challenging animals.

It was like this whole new world for shelters. We finally had the time and space to really look at our operations. We were able to re-engineer what shelters look like…We could reallocate toward alternative resources to intake. We could develop a robust pet food bank. We were able to create a veterinary voucher program to assist pet owners with expensive medical bills. There are lot of reasons people have to relinquish their pets, but if we could help them with some of the reasons why they do it, then we could bypass admissions all together.

So all of that was good news. The bad news started to come in 2021. Nationally, there has been a lot of ‘fake news’ about people turning in animals at a higher rate. That isn’t really happening in the US. But what we’re seeing here in New Mexico in 2021 is [the impact of not being able to perform spay neuter services in the first two months of the pandemic]. We’re seeing much higher rates of admission with dogs under the age of 2…we’re probably going to have to deal with that reality for the next few years at least, and it’s going to take a while to get caught up.

On top of that, the other challenge we’re seeing—and this is a national, probably international, crisis—is a shortage of veterinarians and registered vet techs. Top of my agenda is really putting some time and effort into looking at our compensation for veterinarians and looking at recruiting veterinarians more aggressively. Our hospital has the potential to support the shelter at a great level, but we can’t get there if we don’t have the veterinarians. I’m also interested in helping to enhance our community resources so we can provide more alternatives to admission.

What’s your stump speech to folks about why they should help animals?

One of the reasons [animal welfare] has always been such a meaningful cause for me as an individual is that our pets cannot advocate for themselves. The only way for them to be regarded and treated with the level of dignity and respect they deserve is by having people advocate for humane treatment. Animals don’t have a voice. They rely on us. They depend on us to care for them and, in shelters, it’s even more so. These are displaced animals; they are traumatized by having lost the home they knew. Being able to provide a level of support and care and companionship for those poor animals who did not have a choice in their circumstances—I can’t think of a greater cause than that.

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