RATON, New Mexico (STPNS) -- Long-time area residents may remember the front-page spread that prompted the formation of the Raton Humane Society in December 1979.

Photographs in The Raton Range highlighted the deplorable conditions at the animal shelter where dogs were found to be malnourished and literally freezing to death. Further investigation revealed that the dogcatcher at the time euthanized unwanted animals by turning them loose in Climax Canyon and using them for target practice.

?We?ve come a long way since then,? said Humane Society President Barbara Bonahoom. ?We have been involved with overseeing the operation of the shelter ever since.?

Much of the work of the Humane Society happens behind the scenes. In addition to finding permanent, loving homes for unwanted pets, this non-profit organization is involved in public education for the prevention of cruelty to animals and often provides funds for the care of sick and injured animals.

The Human Society is now hoping to recruit as many new members as possible. Not only are volunteers needed to help at fund-raisers, but volunteers are also needed at the shelter to help socialize the animals by brushing, walking or playing with them. Student groups are encouraged to get involved as well.

It is time the city and the people here step up and take some responsibility for the shelter,? said Humane Society member Lyman Thompson. ?There are many issues that need to be addressed.?

The organization sponsors a newsletter called ?Kind News? in three local second- and third-grade classes. Society members have developed and participate in a weekly pet therapy program at the Raton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center every Thursday morning. Humane Society members also educate the public at the annual health fair each spring as well.

The Society?s two spay/neuter programs, however, have had the most profound effect on the community, officials believe. SNAP (Spay Neuter Assistance Program), offers assistance to pet owners who have difficulty paying full price to spay or neuter their pets.

?If the owner can pay half of each spay or neuter,? Bonahoom said, ?We pay the remainder of the costs.?

During ?Be Kind to Animals Week,? society members gather at Kmart and sell spay/neuter certificates for $20 for both dogs and cats. The certificate is valid for up to one year and has to be redeemed at either of the two local veterinary clinics. The society pays the remainder of the fee.

Feral cats are a problem in many municipalities. The $20 certificates have encouraged many homeowners to capture feral cats in their neighborhoods and release them again following their surgery. Last year, the Humane Society sold 252 certificates.

The effectiveness of these programs is seen in the decline of the number of animals serviced by the shelter. According to a report compiled by Oren Skiles, Raton police chief in 1982, a total of 720 dogs and 466 cats were taken in at the shelter that year. Current shelter statistics indicate 417 dogs and 129 cats passed through the shelter in 2005. This has allowed the shelter to become a ?low-kill? shelter, which allows the animals to remain in care long enough to find a home rather than be euthanized.

Humane Society members work around the clock organizing the transfer and transportation of animals to area breed-specific rescue organizations, puppy rescue and large city shelters. Animals waiting to be adopted are featured on PetFinders.com, as well, and some of them have been flown to adoptive families all across the United States.

The burden of this undertaking during the past 27 years has fallen on the shoulders of a few die-hard members such as Bonahoom and Diana Best. The job of finding new homes, keeping the shelter in good repair and keeping the animals healthy remains a daunting task.

In the past two years alone, the Humane Society put $17,000 into improvements at the shelter, including a dishwasher to sterilize the water and food bowls to prevent the spread of potentially life-threatening illnesses such as parvo. Funding for the Humane Society comes solely from fund-raisers and private donations.

Donations of dry and canned dog and cat food and cat litter are always welcome by the organization, as are old towels, blankets and rugs, and bedding. With winter approaching, straw is needed for the outside kennels at the shelter. Volunteers with construction experience are needed to help with building upkeep and proposed renovations. Shelter officials are also hoping to have donations of building materials such as paint, lumber, concrete and other things to update and enlarge the shelter.

Regular monthly meetings for the Raton Humane Society are held on the second Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Holiday Classic. Everyone is welcome to attend. The animal shelter can be reached by calling 445-8640.