By Milan Simonich
The New Mexican

His name is Minkah. It means justice — fitting after the treatment he received from an alert motorist and a staff of committed professionals.

The Mink is an Australian cattle dog. As a puppy about 6 weeks old, he wandered alone on the streets of Española.

Who knows how he landed on that dangerous path? Between the cars and coyotes, his chances of survival weren’t promising.

But a driver spotted Minkah, scooped him up and deposited him at the nearby animal shelter, Española Humane.

The Mink weighed 5 pounds. He had no microchip, leaving his history as a question mark.

“You never know what’s going to come through the door,” says Tammie Thompson, a supervisor at the shelter.

The staff isolated Minkah so he could be vaccinated and evaluated medically. Another part of the shelter teemed with dogs. A litter of 10 puppies huddled in one kennel, an indication of how heavy the volume can be.

Española is a city of 10,000 people. As of Nov. 1, the shelter this year had taken in 1,310 dogs and 1,092 cats.

The total number of dogs and cats was even higher before the coronavirus pandemic, exceeding 3,500 in 2019.

“It’s like being in a foxhole,” said Dr. Gretchen Yost, a veterinarian at the shelter.

Yost’s roots are in Florida. Her commitment is to animals in Northern New Mexico. Part of the appeal is what she calls the pace and grittiness of the job.

“I love my community, but I understand the challenges it faces,” she said.

Ben Swan, who works on special projects at the shelter, glanced at Yost.

“She is a lifesaver,” he said.

Yost isn’t alone in that respect. Barbara Tebbel helps lessen crowding at the shelter as coordinator of its foster care program, a job she’s done for 10 years. The shelter had 64 active foster parents at the beginning of the week, including me and my wife, Sharon.

That’s how we met Minkah. We had an empty nest, and Sharon saw several dogs pictured on the shelter’s website that interested her.

Once at the kennels, we also spotted the tiny, isolated cattle dog. A mysterious new arrival from the streets, the pup was an unexpected find.

Sharon liked him right away. He had no name and no family, at least not that anyone could trace.

She wanted to take him home. The shelter staff said we were welcome to start by fostering him.

The pup from tough circumstances showed speed and style. We named him Minkah Fitzpatrick, after the Pittsburgh Steelers safety. The Mink.

A few nights of endless barking aside, Minkah has adjusted nicely to his home in Santa Fe. He hates being apart from Sharon. She stays close by as he navigates nightfall.

Minkah gave voice to another concern. Sharon went back to Española Humane to adopt a young tomcat. She named him Forest.

The Mink and Forest are getting to know one another. It’s a cautious standoff most days.

Our adoption of Minkah became official Monday. He’s an especially loyal pal on nights when I’m sweating because I have one half-baked idea for a column and three looming deadlines. The Mink’s presence can calm nerves.

He’s been back to Española Humane a couple of times, both for his care and my interviews with the staff.

The shelter so far this year has provided free spay or neuter surgeries to 1,651 animals that were in its kennels, and another 1,915 pets in private homes. Minkah was one of them.

He’s three times larger than on the warm September afternoon when we brought him home. He will be about 35 pounds when fully grown.

Española Humane serves a region that is largely rural, and its canine population reflects it. Shepherds are the most common breed at 24 percent, according to statistics compiled by Swan. The Mink and other cattle dogs make up 13 percent.

Caring for and placing thousands of animals is hard work. The shelter has a staff of 37 people. Twenty-seven have been consistently working full-time.

Minimum wage at the shelter is $13 an hour. Employees who are vaccinated for COVID-19 receive a pay bump, said Adam Bates, the shelter’s manager. He tells his charges the workdays can be long and difficult.

“With animal welfare, it never really stops,” Bates said.

Few on the outside have benefited more than Sharon and I have. As the holiday approaches, we’re giving thanks for Forest, The Mink and the shelter’s crew.

Read the article online here.