Op-ed September 30, 2018

On September 30, 2018, the following piece by Dr. Jennifer Steketee was printed in the New Mexican newspaper in response to recent articles about the shelter:

Rarely does one see stories in the New Mexican filled with serious distortions and convenient omissions of the complete facts and truth, yet that is unfortunately what the New Mexican did in its highly-sensationalized news reports on the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.  The newspaper could have told a story of the hard work and community effort to transform the shelter into the crown jewel of New Mexico, taking it from a small site on Cerrillos Road to the state-of -the-art, no-kill campus off 599.  The missing story that should have been told is about the hundreds of volunteers that keep the place running, or the dedicated staff, or the tireless work of the current Board.  The New Mexican could run a story about how the shelter saved 4,904 animals in 2017 alone.   Instead, having been provided total access to the Board, the reporter chose to write a story that got the big picture completely wrong and skewed many details as well.

The series, by Thom Cole, stated the shelter is bleeding money and is in bad financial shape, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The operating budget is balanced, and expenses are in line with donations and fees for services.  The reporter did report that some of a large gift was spent to build and staff new facilities to expand services—as the gift was intended, and of course expansion takes money.

Our most recent financials were given to Thom Cole before they were publicly available. These statements show a financially-healthy organization but were omitted from Mr. Cole’s articles.  To make a case that there are financial problems, in light of information that states otherwise, leads one to believe that distorting the facts was the true intent. The fact of the matter is that the Santa Fe Animal Shelter has money in reserves and currently operates in a sustainable way.

The New Mexican chose to highlight three issues from the past that have already been examined and found to amount to nothing.  It is hard to imagine the purpose in dredging up these transactions.

The first issue was one about land traded to a former Board member in exchange for paying off a loan.  The former Board member legitimately was owed $300,000 and the lot was worth about the same, according to a market analysis done at the time by a reputable real estate agent.  So the release of the loan in exchange for the lot of approximately equivalent value was made.  Later, new appraisals showed the lot to be worth a little more, $325,000 in one appraisal, $375,000 in another.  After a Board investigation at the behest of new Board members and before these articles were even published, the former Board member said he would gladly cooperate to resolve the discrepancy.

The second issue has to do with architectural fees for the new hospital and rehabilitation center.  An architect on the Board agreed to do the work, donate his own fees, and only pay his employees.  His fees came in 25% lower than what other architects estimated.  In return for his donated time, he gets an allegation that he did something wrong?  He designed two state-of-the art facilities and saved the shelter close to $200,000 in the process; this should be met with gratitude.

The last issue the New Mexican came up with concerned a house purchased by the animal shelter as a residence for the executive director.  The paper said, “rent free.”  It wasn’t rent free at all, as it was part of her compensation and reported as income to the IRS for tax reasons.   The house was also used by the Shelter for meetings and events, so it wasn’t just her house.  When it was sold, it was sold at fair market value.  Unfortunately, there was substantial deferred maintenance that brought down the value of the house from the time it was originally purchased.

The newspaper also said the shelter was in turmoil.  Untrue.  The only turmoil comes from the New Mexican story; there is no turmoil on the current Board or with the dedicated staff.

The New Mexican asks the question, can Santa Fe afford this “Cadillac” no-kill shelter?  First, it’s not a Cadillac, but the very people the paper criticized built a wonderful facility meant to care for our animals in need.  And second, we not only can afford it, but we are running it sustainably with consistent, generous community support.  And even with these facts in hand, does the New Mexican really want to go back to killing animals, even though we can afford not to?

There comes a time when good people should stand up against falsehoods and distortions.  This is one of those times.  A great institution has been hurt by these biased stories.  The New Mexican has maligned a life-saving organization based on insignificant issues, and that should be addressed.

Dr. Jennifer Steketee is the executive director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

Read on the New Mexican's site: Santa Fe animal shelter is ‘crown jewel’ in New Mexico