27 dogs and cats find sanctuary at Best Friends

Several dogs snuggling together on a dog bed
A mystery in the middle of the desert, these dogs and cats needed help — but now they’re on the path to new, loving homes.
By Sarah Thornton

A cacophony of desperate barks and meows, accompanied by the jangling of fences. The sounds filled the wide-open scrublands of a remote corner of the New Mexico desert, completely out of place with no home or habitation of any kind in the area. A hiker came across the collection of makeshift enclosures — chain-link fences, prefabricated runs, a wooden shack closed in with chicken wire, and several small wire kennels — all filled with dogs and cats calling out for attention.

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Ike’s voice was just one among many that day, a small yellow Chihuahua barking and bouncing along with several other small dogs packed into one of the cages. A flimsy piece of old cardboard covered the top of their kennel, providing a bit of shade for Ike and his group — more than what several of the other dogs had. The bucket, in the corner, was running low on already-dirty drinking water.

The cats had no cover at all — no shade from the sun or protection from biting winter winds. When they spotted someone approaching, a couple climbed the fence in desperation. Little kitten Kairuku swarmed with the others as close to the hiker’s feet as she could, reaching out through the wire with one white paw to grab his attention.

It was cold, still early March, with snow flurries and frost. And these animals — some missing patches of fur or covered in scabs and scrapes — needed help.

Settling into the Sanctuary

The Deming-Luna County Humane Society got involved to handle the case of determining who was responsible for the animals, and eventually they requested help from Best Friends to take in the apparently abandoned dogs and cats. And soon, the mysterious, middle-of-nowhere pets were on their way to safety, warmth, and full bellies.

Grateful tails were wagging and happy purrs were rumbling as humane society staff loaded them into clean kennels and onto the vans that would deliver them to the Sanctuary. Some took more coaxing than others but not by much; they were all more than ready to get out of the cold.

It was pitch-dark outside when the vans pulled up to Dogtown HQ, but Sanctuary staff were ready to help unload and welcome the newcomers to their home-between-homes. They’d already set up rooms for the dogs with beds, soft blankets, and bowls full of fresh water and tasty food.

Ike, being one of the shyer members of the group, was hesitant to leave his carrier until the rest of his little pack had spread out and started flopping into beds and chewing on toys. Only then did he decide to tiptoe after them, glancing over his shoulder to the caregivers at the door. This new place was strange and had different smells and sounds from what he was used to, but it would only take a bit of time for him to get settled in.

Over in Cat World, similarly cozy digs had been prepped for the kitties. But Kairuku was more interested in snuggling into the arms of her new human friends than exploring her temporary bedroom. All she wanted was a few more chin scratches and some more time being held. She was overjoyed by every bit of attention she could get, and she let everyone know with her happy biscuit-making and gleeful purring.

[Kitten loves her spa baths]

In total, 20 dogs and seven cats were tucked into the Sanctuary that night. “(They’re all) very cute, very friendly, and easygoing,” says Ali Waszmer, the director of Dogtown, who was on-site to make sure the arrival went smoothly. “They’re getting along with each other very well and have been really happy to interact with all of us throughout the day.”

After everyone had a good night’s sleep, it was time to get the new arrivals checked by veterinary staff. They needed vaccinations and microchips, and none of them had been spayed or neutered, so those surgeries needed to be arranged.

Ike held still, glancing awkwardly between vet techs as they looked him over, unsure of what to think about the whole situation. Kairuku, on the other hand, was all too happy to be the center of attention.

And other than a few coughing canines, who were prescribed antibiotics and had caregivers keeping a close eye on them, the pets were all in relatively good health.

Big new adventures await

Only a few weeks after the big rescue and late-night pet delivery, as the dogs and cats recovered from their ordeal (and their spay/neuter surgeries), families were already falling in love with them.

Ike, for all his timid tiptoeing upon arrival, warmed up to his home-between-homes pretty quickly. He found comfort snuggling into the laps of familiar caregivers and regular volunteers, relaxing with the warmth of their pats and ear scratches. And before long, one lucky woman in search of a canine companion saw Ike and fell head over heels for his gentle disposition.

[A most joyful doggy duo]

And it doesn’t look like it will be long before the rest of the pets who found sanctuary in the canyon will be following along in Ike’s pawprints — on to bigger adventures with new people to call their own. Kairuku, for one, always has her charm turned up to 11. She greets every new person like she’s known them forever, and she’s already had little girls begging their moms to take her home. It’s just a matter of time.

“We felt really strongly about helping these animals — both for the animals, obviously, in the conditions they were coming from, but also knowing that this is a large number of animals for a shelter like the Deming-Luna County Humane Society to take in,” Ali explains. “So we really wanted to be supporting them in all of their lifesaving efforts.”

After all, that’s what it’s about: working together to Save Them All.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.