ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Albuquerque animal shelters are more packed than usual right now. So, why is the adoption center in a busy mall still closed? And why is the city still paying thousands of dollars in rent on it?

With no shortage of animals needing homes, the city says it’s working to open up its Lucky Paws adoption center in the Coronado Center, but it is running into a hurdle a lot of businesses can relate to these days. “Lucky Paws is such a gem for Animal Welfare, and we want to get it up and running,” said Carolyn Ortega, Director of the city’s Animal Welfare Department.

The adoption center, which holds 14 dogs and 23 cats, is closed until further notice. It first closed in March 2020. “Initially, it was because of COVID. But since then, as we’ve started to kind of loosen up all of the protocols in the state, it became more about staffing,” said Ortega.

It takes 12 adoption counselors to open Lucky Paws, but it has seven vacancies right now. The five adoption counselors the city does have are helping at the shelters, which have about 1,000 pets right now.

“It is more than normal. We’re at capacity, and every day we’re really struggling to keep up,” said Ortega. “Operationally, it makes more sense for the staff that we do have to remain at the shelters to make sure that we have the appropriate number of staff to the number of pets that we have in the shelters.”

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Still, keeping the vacant space is costly. The city leases out the space for about $100,000 per year, meaning it’s spent about $250,000 while Lucky Paws has been closed. “We really hate that it’s taking us this long, but we have to really focus our staff where they’re needed, and right now, they’re needed in the shelters because we have so many pets,” said Ortega.

The contract for the space runs until the end of 2024. The city said it is going to job fairs and offering incentives to try and staff up.

“We know how important it is to the community; we know how so many people are pushing and really advocate for Lucky Paws,” said Ortega. “I encourage people who love animals and want to make a difference in their lives to apply for this position.”

Animal Welfare says Lucky Paws will be open on Black Friday for an adoption event. In the meantime, they’re looking at ‘creative’ ways to use the space for other pop-up adoption events or just open on weekends until they are fully staffed.

In addition to adoption counselors, Animal Welfare is looking for vet staff and volunteers. You can apply and look at the volunteer opportunities online.