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FARMINGTON — Mother's Day weekend marked a milestone in Farmington's animal services history.

The city animal shelter's first-ever special adoption event has been declared a rousing success. City officials and shelter employees say the event is evidence of fundamental changes in shelter operations over the past few months and shows a deliberate shift from animal control to animal welfare.

The impetus for the Mother's Day cat and kitten adoption special, however, was simple.

"It's kitten season, and the shelter was at capacity with cats," said Cory Styron, the director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, at Tuesday's city council meeting. "With all the hard work of staff, we've turned a corner."

In total, 39 animals were adopted -- 32 cats and kittens and seven dogs.

Samantha Embry, the shelter's volunteer coordinator, agreed that the adoption special was a success.

"It was a wonderful weekend," Embry said. "We not only had people adopting, we had people interested in volunteering and dropping off donations."

In addition to adoptions, a total on 19 animals were placed in foster homes over the weekend, she said.

"We need all the support we can get," Embry said. "The leadership of Marcy (Eckhardt) and with the support of the city, we've changed policies in place before that weren't so beneficial for the animals. We've definitely talked about if we get overloaded with a specific type of animal, that we'll do another special."

Eckhardt is a consultant the city hired late last year to provide direction to the shelter.

A highlight of the weekend's event was reuniting Red, a cattle-dog mix, with his owner, Styron said.

Red had been at the shelter for a month, he said.

At least three of the cats adopted out had been in the shelter for four weeks, according to information provided by Jody Carman, public relations and marketing coordinator in Styron's department. One of the cats had been there for six weeks. The shelter also adopted out a surrogate mother cat that had cared for many orphaned babies.

"We really had a really cool event with the Mother's Day special," Styron said. "We had several cats and kittens, and we were getting concerned about some of the smaller kittens. It was pretty great to see that. We typically average about 20 adoptions per week."

For Styron, the adoption special was just part of many changes taking place at the shelter.

"I think with our change in philosophy, this is just the beginning," he said. "We have a lot of people who toured the shelter that I don't think have ever been before. The shelter's staff stepped up. All I did was plant the seed. They were phenomenal. The shift really started to change with a groundswell of public support. We've changed 180 degrees in just 90 days or so."

Now the shelter and its staff are focused on placing animals in permanent homes and on animal welfare, rather than on simple animal control, Styron said. Staff now focus on adoption, foster care, transferring animals to rescue groups to Colorado and on other options that place animals' well-being first.

"Euthanasia is our last option," Styron said. "Before it was a little higher on the list. It's a very profound change in philosophy."

Styron, city administration, shelter staff and community animal rights advocates are all hoping the city's search for a new shelter director will end soon.

"We have three candidates coming into town next Friday," Styron said. "It's the result of a nationwide search. One candidate is from Maryland, another from Michigan and the other's from Colorado."

Each candidate will be evaluated by three panels one made up of shelter staff, another of community members and a final panel of city administration and management, he said.

Embry said she would like to see the new shelter director focus on animal welfare, on working with community advocacy groups and on shelter work, to continue the progress that's been made in the last few months.

"We need someone to come in and open doors to community opportunities," she said. "We need to educate the public. The animal shelter is a completely different place than it has been. The employees are really focused on enriching the animals while they're here temporarily so we can best match them to homes. We get to know the animals."

Greg Yee can be reached at; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.