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: Gray cat with some tabby markings, lost from Placitas Heights (just west of the Village of Placitas on south side of Highway 165, first week of February. Ten-month-old male, not neutered. #2046

DOG: White pit bull, female, lost February 9 from Highway 165 at the west end of the Village of Placitas. "Blanca" is a seven-year-old spayed female with a black collar and a rabies tag. #2054.


4 DOGS: Four dogs running loose in Placitas Trails (western Placitas, 1-2 miles from I-25) in late January. One husky, one orange/reddish, one black. #2042-2045

2 DOGS: Two large, yellowish (German Shepherd type) mixed-breed dogs near Juniper Rd and Canon del Agua in Ranchos de Placitas on February 9. #2048 & 2049

3 DOGS: Three fairly young dogs seen off Camino de las Huertas, about two miles north of the Village of Placitas on February 10. German shepherd/shepherd mixes. #2050-2052

3 DOGS: Three large dogs spotted running through the big arroyo off Santa Ana Loop in Sundance Mesa (north western Placitas area) in mid-February. Two large brown dogs, one large black dog. #2055-2057


CAT: Male, gray and white cat with six toes on front paws! About 5 months old. #2047, or call Placitas Animal Rescue at 867-0004.

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Animal News

Digital Art by J. Patterson

Digital art, by J. Patterson

Mouse-busters: whooo you gonna call?

Owls captivate the imagination and charm the eye. They appear and disappear at will and when they do appear, they can startle even the calmest person. Awesome in flight and in action, owls are incredible hunters and caring parents.

Found on all continents except Antarctica, owls cover the globe. There are one hundred-fifty species worldwide, nineteen species in North America, and fourteen species in New Mexico. Of the species found in New Mexico, eight are common in the Sandoval County area: the barn owl, the flammulated owl, the western screech owl, the great horned owl, the spotted owl, the burrowing owl, the long-eared owl, and the short-eared owl.

All owls hunt at night except for the snowy owl (which is not a resident of New Mexico). Night hunting allows them to stalk prey more effectively, as the darkness facilitates a sneaky swoop and an easier catch. Conversely, they often use their shadows on moonlit nights to flush prey into the open.

One of the owls’ secrets of success is their feathers, which help them see, hear, and, most importantly for hunting, help them fly silently, allowing them to pounce without alerting ‘dinner.’

Owls mate for life and often hunt in pairs. The females are larger and heavier than the males and blend into the scenery better. They generally lay three to five white eggs every year.

Owls are raptors, meaning they hunt things for food. Occasionally, the bigger owls will hunt animals as large as rabbits, skunks, and, less commonly, cats or small dogs. As a rule, they prefer food that does not fight back, like mice, small birds, and insects.

Owls reduce the rodent population significantly. Great horned owls weigh about four pounds and can eat more than their body weight every night. If you figure a mouse weighs around one ounce, that adds up to around sixty-four mice gone by dawn—and owls hunt in pairs. A cat can’t do that in a night! This rodent control is important, especially in areas where people die of hantavirus and the plague. If our feathered friends did not control the rodent population, we would have a real problem.

Unfortunately, owl populations are shrinking due to climate change and habitat loss. Efforts are being made to set aside space for the birds in both grassland and riparian environments.
Despite the bad reputation owls get from small animal lovers, it is not hard to lock up the felines and mini-canines, and know that we are blessed to have such useful feathered neighbors.
For more owl information, check out the Nature Conservancy web site at

Roaring new 4-H club

The Placitas Mountain Lions, our new 4-H club, is roaring to life. There are already twelve children participating in activities, ranging from photography to raising rabbits. Anyone between the ages of five and nineteen is encouraged to join, and all you have to do is sign up, free-of-charge. “We’ve had several meetings, but we finally got it going,” said Sandy Espinosa, owner of the Placitas Mini-Mart and one of the founders of the club. “We still need volunteers, kids, and leaders.”

Meetings begin at 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the Placitas Elementary School. “It doesn’t take much time since it’s only once a month,” Espinosa said. “Right now we have mostly elementary-aged kids, but we would love to have older kids join too.” People who are involved with other 4-H groups are encouraged to sign up as well.

Sandy Espinosa and Juliet Jones got started with the idea of the club in the fall. Thanks to the help of Sandy Taylor and Steve Lucero, who oversee all the Sandoval County 4-H clubs, it only took a few months before the Mountain Lions were up and running.

Many of the kids have chosen their projects already. Current projects include rabbits, poultry, horses, lambs, dogs, photography, and target sports. There are countless other activities the 4-H club could have, according to participants’ interests. The mottos of the 4-H are, “To make the best better,” and “Learn by doing.”

The new 4-H club officers are: Edward Fontaine, president; Garrett Greene, vice president; Elizabeth Davila, secretary; Jade King, treasurer; Lula Sosa, reporter; and Brinli Longley, music/recreation coordinator.

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert
Prey at the waterhole

I came around a corner and there was a mountain lion. It was a big male, tail longer than my arm. I stopped in dappled ponderosa shade. I was close enough that I could have tossed a pebble and hit the lion’s tawny block of a head. He was facing the other way, lapping water out of a muddy hole in the Blue Range near the Arizona-New Mexico line.

I lowered to one knee—not what you should do around a large predator, especially a cat—but it was what immediately came to mind. The first thing I wanted was to have the upper hand, which for me meant being invisible.

I had wanted to see a mountain lion this way for a long time. So often I am the one who is watched without knowing it, perking ears I never know are there. Now, I was crouched on the ground staring at a lion that had no idea I was here, carefully studying the way its head grazed the water, how its shoulder blades lifted like shields as it drank. I was traveling alone in the wilderness, seven days of gear on my back. I let my pack off my shoulders and rolled it gently to the ground. Any thoughts I had been thinking floated away unfinished. I became a shadow, a ghost, something not here.

When it was done drinking, the lion turned its lithe, muscular body and looked around. I took the faintest breath, my body light as a leaf. The lion ’s bright, glassy eyes passed over mine, and I let its gaze wash through me. I was nothing but a shape among stumps and rocks. The lion did not see me. It walked away from the water hole with fluid authority. It slipped into the forest and was gone.

After a while I stood. I grinned; I’d gotten my wish. Now, for the tracks. I left my pack behind and headed for the water hole. In case the cat was still around, I clattered rocks as I went, knowing that it would turn suddenly, surprised to hear me, affronted perhaps to have been watched, and then would sprint away, leaving me far behind.

At the water hole I found fresh tracks in mud, round lobes of paw pads and toes. I was just leaning down to dip a finger into one of the prints when I thought — this is where animals are caught: bending down at a water hole, spine exposed to all the world. Just in case, I glanced around. There I saw the lion. It had doubled back behind me and was reclined in juniper shade, watching me as if I were its morning show, tail looped across the ground.

I did not move. I thought this was as close as I would ever get and I burned the image of this lion into my memory. How long would it stay? How long could I just stand here and stare?

Not long. It rose from the shadows. It stepped out and began walking straight toward me. Fear gulped through my blood. I was prey at the waterhole. Wait a second. This isn’t supposed to happen. I’m a watcher, an observer. I am human.

And it, I realized, is a cat. This is what cats do. Evolution has designed a hunting family of animals able to digest meat and little else, the strapping blueprint of its body so perfect that the cat has hardly been added to or subtracted from in 30 million years.

The lion’s pace came slowly and deliberately, yet very quickly it was 20 feet away. I pulled a knife from my hip, unfolded and locked a blade five inches long — one claw against eight claws; the advantage was not mine. I swallowed all of my fear. There was nothing else I could do with it. The lion was already 10 feet away, and my world was nothing but its grey-green eyes. It looked straight into me. I was being gutted.

The mountain lion began circling me. Its body was so uniformly sculpted that I could see where muscle gave way to bone in its face, whiskers hanging under their own weight. Its tail waved back and forth like a fencer’s sword.

There are so many rules about animal encounters, about barking or bluffing, standing tall, putting hands in coat pockets and spreading out so you look bigger. But there was no time for these tricks. Everything happened too fast. I now had only the trick of confounding the lion’s attack pattern. I followed it with my eyes, with all of my body, not giving it any glance behind me.

This went on for minutes, hours, days. My entire life.

Then it let go of me. The lion turned and moved away. I don’t know why. I wasn’t the right shape. I didn’t run, giving it my back, as it expects of prey overtaken by fear. As quickly as the lion had approached, it was gone. I stood there, feeling as if I was made of porcelain, as if everything—my body and the world around me—would break the second I moved. Every loose end, every frayed thought I ever had was gone. For that moment I had been no more than a shadow standing in the presence of the absolute.

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

Sandoval County residents inducted into New Mexico State
University 4-H Hall of Fame

Two Sandoval County residents, Don Leonard and Karin Vallo, are among fifteen 4-H leaders and supporters who were inducted into the state 4-H Hall of Fame recently at New Mexico State University. An unveiling of new nameplates on the Hall of Fame plaque followed the ceremony.

Sandoval County Commissioner Don Leonard has had a tremendous influence on 4-H in Sandoval and Bernalillo counties. He has also impacted the New Mexico State Fair. With more than 20 years of service and support, Leonard has been instrumental in recruiting buyers for the county livestock sales in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, as well as being a junior livestock buyer himself. He has served on the livestock rules committee for six years and the Sandoval County Fair Board for ten years. He also sponsors 4-H events by giving of his time and providing financial support.

"In his position as County Commissioner, Mr. Leonard has been instrumental in securing funds to improve the 4-H facilities and fairground. Improvements such as a new livestock barn, pens, wash bays and rodeo arena lights have become a reality due to his efforts," said Phillip Zuni, NMSU freshman and state 4-H president.

Karin Vallo was nominated for the 4-H Hall of Fame by the Sandoval County 4-H Council because of her twenty-five years of commitment to the program. She started the first 4-H club in Sandoval County and has continued to serve 4-H ever since.

"Whether in her role as club leader or as a fair board member, Ms. Vallo supports and encourages 4-H youth throughout the county," Zuni said. "She donates poultry and rabbits for youth to raise as projects, and assists with fundraising for members and leaders to travel to forums and conferences. She not only serves as a junior livestock buyer, but formed a buyers’ club to expand the support of 4-H members with livestock projects."

Vallo was one of the original founders of the Rio Puerco Basin Fair, which evolved into the Sandoval County Fair. Her family's construction company has been responsible for building much of the infrastructure at the fairgrounds.






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