It’s not a great time to work at Pueblo Animal Services. Shelter Director Julie Justman said that staff members are routinely cursed at, items have been thrown at them and direct threats to their lives have been made on social media.
"There have been threats to euthanize all of the staff at the shelter as well as finding all of their home addresses and taking them out," Justman said.
The shelters became a growing target of criticism during the last year because of the number of animals they’ve had to put down. That criticism led to a narrow 4-3 decision by City Council to implement the Pueblo Animal Protection Act. The resolution mandates a 90 percent live animal release rate in order to continue receiving a City contract.
Justman told the City Council this week they improved their live animal release rate to 89 percent through the first three months of 2018. But the threats and intimidation don’t help.
"It’s really heartbreaking and sad that these staff members on top of doing an already difficult job have to worry about their personal safety."
The group Reform Pueblo Animal Services, which pushed for the PAPA ordinance, agrees.
"We certainly do not support that and we hope that the general public will take a close look at what they’re saying and remember that these are people and we need to treat them with respect," said spokesperson Shanna Farmer.
Justman thinks there are societal issues that contributed to their lower 82 percent save rate last year. For example, many people surrendering their pets because they were too poor to pay the vet bills.
"Thanks to grants and donor support, we’re able to offer them an opportunity to help their animal medically if that’s possible and then return it to them."
Both Justman and Farmer point out that the first quarter numbers are just a snapshot. Those winter months tend to be the slowest time of year for animal intake.
Farmer thinks Pueblo Animal Services can further improve their save rate by increasing the number of animals they transfer to other accredited facilities.
"By law, they don’t have to do that yet. But there have been shelters willing to take a dog from Pueblo Animal Services and they’ve been denied and that dog has been killed," Farmer said.
She hopes her group can collaborate with Pueblo Animal Services and other rescues around the state to increase the number of transfers.