Animal shelter director retires

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Louisa Maestas retired July 29 from her position as Clovis Animal Shelter director after 28 years.

Sharna Johnson

Her first week on the job at the animal shelter, Louisa Maestas opened the cages of dogs and cats slated for euthanasia and shoed them out the door to save their lives. It could have cost her the job, but instead, she soon learned while she couldn’t save them all, the best way to do her part was to use her position to love them while they live.

Maestas retired July 29 from her position as Clovis Animal Shelter director after 28 years. She said she is looking forward to spending her new-found free time as a volunteer in the community, including at the shelter.

Though she never expected it the day she took a job as secretary for the shelter, Maestas said the facility became who she is and the animals, employees and volunteers became part of her family.

“I consider my job a godsend, because I was blessed for 28 years,” she said.

“The dogs and the cats, they showed me a new way of life. I never looked at them this way before. I thank God every day for my job because I was blessed.”

Walking into work the first day in 1983, she still remembers her boss, Roman Romero Jr., commenting on her attire.

“I walked in with my brief case, my high heels, my dress… he said, ‘I hope you’re not going to dress like that, because you’re going to clean (kennels). You can’t dress like that here,’” she recalled with a laugh.

It was the first of many adjustments she had to make as she grew into her position, but the one she remembers most was the day she was asked to tag the cages of the animals that hadn’t been adopted so they could be euthanized.

“I felt so sorry for all these dogs and cats and I just couldn’t bear it. I opened the cages and I said, ‘Go, go!’ Some of them didn’t want to go, (but) they took off running,” she said.

“I had been here a week and I had already seen a couple of euthanasias, and I just felt so sorry for them, and I just didn’t want them to die.”

Looking back, Maestas said she now wonders where those animals ended up and better understands the role euthanasia plays in a community where there are so many strays.

She said she admitted what she had done when Romero discovered the animals missing and the incident opened her eyes.

“I said, ‘I can’t lie to you. I let them go because I don’t want you to put them down,’ and he told me, ‘You have to realize that this is happening. You’re in the wrong business if you can’t see that. This is a job that nobody wants,’” she said.

“And that’s when I made up my mind that I’m going to work humanely for the animals, and love them while they’re here.”

Two years later when Romero retired, she was appointed director, and she said she has spent her career doing just that.

Rather than focusing on euthanasia — she has been through four changes in euthanasia methods, the most controversial and recent being the switch from carbon monoxide to lethal injection — she has tried to make the animals’ lives better while they are at the shelter, even if they have to be put to sleep in the end.

“I get people in here feeling the same things that I felt back then. They come in here and they want to save all of them,” she said.

“I learned. You can’t adopt them all. No matter how much you love an animal, if you really can’t take care of it, don’t take it, because you’re really not doing the animal any favors.”

Blankets, beds, air conditioning, treats, baths and volunteer programs are just some of the changes that Maestas made in her time at the shelter.

But the biggest thing Maestas brought to the shelter was a mother’s kindness and a woman’s touch, said Darlene Ray, president of Clovis Animal Welfare League.

Ray said she started working with Maestas in 1992 when her organization was founded.

“We started out volunteering down there. She worked with us on everything and if it was doable, she agreed with it,” she said.

“Bless her heart, she just helped us immensely. She was kind. She wanted to make sure the animals were able to go somewhere and not be euthanized … I think she made a big difference. We’re going to miss her.”

Just a few days since she worked her last officials day, Maestas is already missed by her coworkers, as is the woman’s touch she brought to the job.

“She took all her girlie stuff out of here,” said Interim Director Marty Martinez. “It’s different without her.”