The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


Dave Harper (right) and friendAnimal Hotline is a nonprofit service to help reunite lost and found pets with their people.
P. O. Box 100, Placitas, NM 87043

If you find or lose an animal in Placitas or the surrounding area, call Dave Harper at the Animal Hotline. Placing a lost or found notice in the Hotline is a free service.


CAT: Female cat lost from Ranchos de Placitas the last week of June. Mix of grey, brown and orange, with tabby stripes on her back. She has a white face and green eyes with “eyeliner” all around. She is pretty and very friendly. Lost from Cienega Canyon Road. #3045

CAT: Orange, black and white (tortoise shell) cat lost about a mile south of the Village of Placitas (Dome Valley) in early July. Spayed female, long haired cat. More black and white than other colors. #3048

CAT: Orange tabby, older male, about sixteen years old, kind of skinny. He disappeared from Cienega Canyon Road in Ranchos de Placitas on July 20. #3050

CAT: Three-legged, grey-and-white cat missing from the Llanito/Bernalillo area on or around August 15. No tags. Responds to the name “Lucy.” Small reward. #3052


DOG: Brindled pit bull found at Homestead Shopping Center in western Placitas area. Male, very friendly. #3049

DOG: Australian Shepherd, male, brown, young, red braided collar. Found in Placitas Trails on July 15. #3051


CAT: Black-and-white (probably male) cat running around Dome Valley, south of the Village of Placitas in late June. #3044

Animal News

Tethered pigeon

A tethered pigeon is bait for golden eagles, which researchers trap, band and release. If all goes well and the researchers are quick, the pigeon survives.

Throwing raptors into flight

On an exposed ridge in Montana’s Helena National Forest, high on the blustery Rocky Mountain Front, Rob Domenech recoils from the wind in his baggy jeans and knit hat. From a cage of cooing pigeons, he takes two birds and tucks them gently into the pockets of his windbreaker. He walks 100 yards across the ridge, where he pulls out one pigeon, wraps it in a Barbie-doll-sized leather vest and clips the vest to a fine polyester string connected to a pole. Then he huddles inside a camo-painted and branch-covered 4-by-8-foot blind, binoculars at hand. He sits back, looking through the 4-inch-wide windows, and waits for a raptor to swoop down for the pigeon.

It’s just another day on the job for the founder of Raptor View Research Institute. Since 2001, Domenech has banded 105 golden eagles — more than any other banding station in the U.S. Along with banding raptors, his 4-year-old institute tracks migratory goldens with satellites, monitors ospreys for heavy metals near a Superfund site, and studies nesting Swainson’s hawks. But it also aims to educate kids who aren’t necessarily honors students—giving them the chance to launch a banded raptor skyward.

Crouched in the blind today, Domenech peers through binoculars at a distant black speck in flight. Beside him, a teenage boy from Missoula’s youth home squints to make out the bird. Is it a golden? Like most visitors to Domenech’s raptor banding station, the boy can see the faraway dot, but can’t distinguish it from any other bird.

Domenech sees himself mirrored in these kids. When he was in fourth grade, his father died, leaving his mom to raise the four children alone. “It was all about keeping lights on and food in the fridge,” says Domenech. “I was lucky I didn’t get in any more trouble as a kid.” He survived his teens by quietly daydreaming his way through school. A loner disappearing into the classroom walls, he penciled dinner plate-sized drawings of golden eagles on desktops. “No one was making me get through school,” he says. “If I had dropped out, no one would have objected.”

This fall, his work with at-risk kids will pay off when one participant from Missoula’s Flagship Program joins the banding station’s full-time staff. “He’s been exposed to more field science at 19 than most university wildlife biology grads,” Domenech notes.

Bird-watching was a skill he gleaned from his mother, who always pointed out hawks. At the age of 18, Domenech accompanied a friend to New Jersey’s Appalachian Trail, where a curt researcher counting raptors snapped at hikers interrupting his work. “He called in a merlin that did five tight concentric circles and then zipped off out of sight,” remembers Domenech. “I was hooked.”

Domenech was the kind of kid who memorized field guides—he used to argue with his grandfather that buzzards were really called turkey vultures—but it took him eight years to get his degree at the University of Montana. “I was way too restless to sit in class when I knew the migrants were flying,” he laughs. In fact, he took off every fall semester during migration season. Camping in his Ford Escort with Scratch, his Rhodesian ridgeback-rottweiler cross, he spent months navigating logging roads to find good places for watching raptors.

Back in the blind with the scared pigeon, searching through his binoculars for a golden eagle, Domenech mutters, “They are wiley.” As he flicks birdseed from his jacket pocket, he tells me about his design for robotic marmot lures to replace live pigeons. He also recently acquired a grant to fund three more satellite transmitters on adult eagles to establish migratory patterns.

The second a golden swoops down for the pigeon, Domenech deftly pulls strings to release the trap. He leaps out of the blind to hood the eagle before it injures itself or kills the pigeon. The Missoula youth-home youngster follows eagerly on Domenech’s heels—this is his bird, his golden to throw into flight.

The author writes from Whitefish, Montana.

This article originally appeared in High Country News (, which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert
Trash brings animals to recreation sites

It’s a story repeated regularly throughout New Mexico every year. A black bear learns about all the great-smelling, tasty trash campers leave behind, and eventually it loses its fear of people. Then it becomes a nuisance in that or some other nearby campground.

Or maybe it wanders down to the nearest mountain town, and starts living out of dumpsters and trash cans. Ultimately, someone calls the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to come deal with the “problem bear.”

On June 26, the Department killed a one-hundred-fifty-pound male black bear in Pinos Altos because it had killed twenty-six chickens, injured a goat, and chased other livestock. It had no fear of people, and often was seen looking in windows of local houses. The agency set a trap for the bear six days earlier, but the property damage continued and finally the bear was killed. That bear started down this road to ruin when it discovered trash.

A similar scenario played out in the Sandia Mountains on June 16. A female bear known to frequent the Nine Mile Campground near Sandia Park was killed after it climbed into a house—twice.
Bears really aren’t the problem—trash is. Many campers don’t handle their trash properly. They leave chip bags lying around like cookies at Christmas. They leave sweet-smelling bottles of sports drinks lying around campgrounds as if they are natural mulch. That trash leads to bears, raccoons, and other wildlife becoming habituated to the smell and taste of human food.

Early in June, the Department had to hire a Hazmat team to clean three trailers full of trash out of seven vault toilets at the State Game-Commission owned properties along the Pecos River. It took three days. There were also bottles left all over the property—water bottles, beer bottles, soda bottles, whiskey bottles, tequila bottles. Some of the bottles were melted in the available fire pits, or broken, creating a dangerous nuisance.

The Department of Game and Fish paid $6,242.19 in June to pull trash out of the seven vault toilets in the canyon. It also paid $2,336.52 in June to pump human waste out of the trash-free toilets. This occurred just ten days after the Upper Pecos Watershed Association did its own clean up along the river.

Trash disposal is expensive, and if not done right, it leads to nuisance and/or dead bears. When you travel to the National Forests, State Game Commission-owned lands, or other State properties, please take a few minutes to shed some of the pounds and pounds of trash you might be tempted to pack along with you. Here are some ideas of how you can do that:

• Take a five-gallon jug of water, and not a case of those small plastic bottles.
• Use fresh fruits and vegetables, not canned.
• Use a Dutch oven instead of wrapping everything in tin foil.
• Take a big bag of cookies instead of the individually wrapped one-hundred-calorie packets.
• Carry a trash bag and use it!
• Leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.
• Take your trash home with you, where you can dispose of it properly.

Littering is a crime. It also kills bears and other wildlife. It costs your state wildlife agency lots of money to remove—money that could be better spent improving Game Commission-owned properties rather than hauling away your garbage.

Anyone with information about game-law violations is encouraged to call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-432-GAME (4263). Callers can remain anonymous and could be eligible for cash rewards if information leads to charges being filed.

Signpost cartoon, c. Rudi Klimpert
Black bears bite campers

State Parks and the Department of Game and Fish are emphasizing the importance of proper food storage while camping, after a thirteen-year old was bitten by what authorities believe was a small black bear at Sugarite Canyon State Park’s Soda Pocket Campground on Sunday, July 8. The incident occurred around 2:00 a.m.

The boy heard something brush against his tent, and thought it was his relative playing a trick on him. He slapped the side of the tent but ended up slapping what authorities think was a black bear, which then bit the boy’s hand and ran away. The Department of Game and Fish, who were called to the scene, determined that the bite was from a small black bear, based on the bite marks on the tent. The boy was not seriously injured but will be treated with a rabies vaccine as a precaution.

“In the twenty-two years I’ve been at Sugarite, this is the first bear bite; I think this is a rare case in which the bear was reacting to the boy’s response,” said Park Superintendent Bob Dye.

State Parks has installed bear-proof trash cans and bear-proof metal lockers for food storage at many state parks in bear habitat, including Sugarite. Park rangers also educate visitors through campsite visits and signage about how to camp properly to avoid contact and conflicts with bears.

Officials believe the bear may have been searching for food at the campsite, because acorns and berries are not yet at their peak and drier weather has caused bears to search harder for food.

Though the boy who was bitten said he did not have food in his tent, even the scent of food on clothes can attract bears, which have a keen sense of smell.

On July 12, a camper in a tent near the Gila Cliff Dwellings was bitten by a bear early Thursday morning and subsequently underwent rabies treatments.

Bill Thorp of Las Cruces was treated at a hospital in Silver City for a bite to his buttocks. He said he was camping in the Grapevine Campground about forty miles north of Silver City when he heard something moving around outside his tent. He got up and shut the tent flap, and was lying down inside when the bear bit him through the tent. By the time he got out of the tent to see what had bit him, the bear was gone.

Officers set a trap for the bears and track them with hounds. Once caught, the bears are killed and the heads are sent to the state laboratory in Albuquerque for testing. State law requires that any wild animal that breaks the skin on a human be euthanized and tested for rabies.

Intentionally feeding a bear or leaving food out can cause a bear to become a nuisance, which could eventually mean the bear may have to be killed. Violators can face fines up to $500.






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