A Fond Farewell to Loyal Readers

Last summer, Bonney Brown and I left the Nevada Humane Society team to work full-time with Humane Network, an organization that we founded to provide consulting services to other groups who want to increase lifesaving for homeless pets in their communities. This work has been very rewarding and taken us from coast to coast, small towns to large cities and private nonprofits to government-run agencies. The consistent factor is that people all over the country feel a deep responsibility for animals and are committed to saving more lives. Many of them see Reno, Sparks and Washoe County as a model for what they wish to achieve in their community.

Our experiences at NHS were invaluable and sharing them across the country has been an honor. We are so proud to have been a part of the organization’s transformation — one that is truly a tribute to the compassion and commitment made by our community. We can all now proudly declare that Washoe County is one of the safest places in the country for homeless pets.

Last November, we officially handed off the NHS reins to an extremely capable and dedicated new CEO, Kevin Ryan. We know that Kevin has settled in, reshaped a great team of both experienced and new staff and is focused on exciting new goals.

It is now time for Bonney and me to sign off on writing this Animal Files column. Together, we have written more than 260 editions of the column since its inception in 2008. I have personally connected with thousands of regular readers — especially those of you who communicated how you were touched by a particular column. I have shared my feelings, experiences, information and milestones. We have jointly celebrated successes and mourned losses. You have inspired me in so many ways — from personal encouragement to your own compassionate acts.

So, with gratitude, Bonney and I say goodbye to you all. But we are not saying goodbye to this community and the work of being a voice for the animals. Animal Files will also continue as an avenue to speak for them with Kevin Ryan as their voice. Thanks to each and every one of you for your support and most of all for what you have done to create such a compassionate and caring community.

Events that help homeless pets:

Animal Shelter Behavior Seminar by Kelley Bollen runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 2-3 at Nevada Humane Society. Learn about reading dog/cat body language, stress reduction, enrichment, etc. Details and registration available at www.nevadahumanesociety.org.

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There’s No Need for Cat vs. Dog Rivalry

Achilles and Hector, nature vs. nurture, “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Domino’s pizza delivery and the dreaded Noid—history is strewn with great rivalries. We often are drawn into these dust-ups and forced to take a side, pick a tribe. Sometimes, it’s easy. I attended the University of Kansas so I naturally, almost as if it were predestined, cultivated a dislike of the Missouri Tigers. Other divisive disputes are not so easy to sort out. Perhaps the greatest feud of all is cats vs. dogs and, as an extension, the most potent and existential of all questions: Are you a cat person or a dog person? Breaths remain bated as the answer is anticipated.

When I first entered the world of animal welfare, I was asked this question almost before being asked my name. It seemed innocuous enough to me. The question was not “Do you love cats and hate dogs?” It was more in the vein of “which way do you lean?” A query akin to “What’s your favorite color?” There’s no wrong answer, right?

I learned a hard lesson that day. I announced, unassumingly, that “I am more of a dog person.” The room grew dark and items seemed to shift (I am pretty sure the clock melted in a Salvador Dali-esque twist). Then half of the room erupted in applause and high fives; the other half furrowed their brows and flared their nostrils. What had I done?

Let me explain. I am an animal person. I like them all and I will help them all without preferential treatment. We had both dogs and cats growing up, and I loved every one. Yet you must understand, our childhood dog loved to play, snuggle and was simply desperate to be near you. Cuddles Boots Ryan, our cat, did not like to be touched and would punish direct eye contact. She used to lounge beneath a weeping willow in our yard, awaiting the opportunity to attack neighbor children; it was when she was happiest. I had been preconditioned to be a little more of a dog person.

Dogs are what led me to animal protection and sheltering. Once I joined the field, I acquired a new appreciation for those who meow and I can now admit that I am both a cat person and dog person, as my co-workers can attest. I recently acquired an office cat named Sebastian, who is 13 years old and came to NHS as a stray. I love him dearly and we have long discussions. Sometimes we argue, but we never part angry.

There is no need for this war to rage on. Be a cat and dog person—why choose and miss out? Let’s achieve peace among pet people in our time.

Love Takes Many Forms, Even For Pets

This week a picture of an elderly man pushing his dog in a wheelchair went viral. Well, it at least went viral in my world of Facebook, Twitter and email – all social media roads that led to me were crowded with this image. That may say something about me; it certainly says something about my friends and definitely portends what I do for a living. Whatever the cosmic message this convergence was supposed to send was lost the moment I read the caption, “This guy has this dog, and she can’t walk anymore. So he takes her out for a walk every day in a wheelchair”.

Love takes many forms and those of you like me understand where this gentleman is coming from.  We love our pets; they are members of our family and as such we would do anything for them. My dog moved cross country with me, driving 40 hours through snow, rain and Utah. Then, just last Monday he ate an entire bag of unopened tortilla chips while I was at work. Through highs and lows, I love my dog and I would do anything for him.

I’ve often said that pet ownership is an irrational urge.  We don’t need cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, birds, or hamsters to survive.  They get hair on our stuff and occasionally eat our Tostitos.  Yet we have a pervasive drive to bring pets into our homes and ensconce them as members of our clans.  Has humankind lost its way? Are we all stark raving mad?  Perhaps we are, but not because of our love of pets.  I am often reminded by staff and friends of all pets do for us. Certainly, they provide companionship, unconditional love and amusement. Yet this is far from an inclusive list –one could make a case that pet ownership isn’t that altruistic at all, but in fact self-preservation.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, Triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness. Sound good? Wait there’s more–pets can increase opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization.  Now I am not saying you should dump your Lipitor or multivitamin and get a cat, but research indicates that pets enrich our lives and can even extend our lives.

I grew up in a family that loved our pets. Sparky (our childhood beagle) was not just a pet, not just a family member–he was my mother’s favorite child. The cruel truth always seemed to be that our beloved pets were with us all too briefly. Perhaps it just seems that way because they help us stay here longer.

Board Member Paul Tholl Leaves A Lasting Legacy

by Kevin Ryan

Animal welfare and sheltering can be an exhausting business. Every day seems like a life-and-death footrace, mostly because our hard work does indeed result in lives saved. That’s a lot of pressure. This pressure is compounded by the fact that Nevada Humane Society has forged a local and national reputation that makes “adequate” or “good” unacceptable. Our community, volunteers and stakeholders demand extraordinary results. Complacency is not an option and “more” has become our watchword. All of this can seem daunting, yet just last week I was given a heavy dose of perspective.

Paul “Bud” Tholl, a Nevada Humane Society board member and visionary leader of 50-plus years, passed away in late 2013. Sadly, I never really had the chance to know him; we met on a few occasions and had passing conversations. I did have the good fortune to witness the calm wisdom and determination that he brought to our organization’s leadership and the reverence and esteem in which he was held in by all. One could assume this was a sign of respect given to a person of a certain age and in recognition of a half century of service, yet that deferential treatment was earned every day in every way. Tholl occupied no emeritus position on the NHS Board of Directors; he was active, committed and diligent until the end of his life. He put his energy where his heart was. That would be enough to earn our thanks, but there’s so much more.

Last Friday, I sat in a packed ballroom at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, listening to speakers extol the virtues of Paul “Bud” Tholl at his memorial service. Trooper Chuck Allen, vice president of the NHS board, celebrated and offered one last thank you to Tholl and his family for the service, leadership and generosity he gave freely to our organization. Then, speaker after speaker stood behind the podium and heralded his good works. His altruism was far from limited to NHS or animals alone. I learned that Tholl gave of his time and resources to countless worthy causes throughout our community, from Rotary to Make-a-Wish. Truly, a man apart.

One speaker caught me off guard. He said he once asked Tholl why he gave so much of himself to NHS and why animals?

His cited response, “Animals can’t speak for themselves. If I don’t take care of them, who will?” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. The hustle and bustle and stress of life in the shelter fast lane faded with his simple yet profound statement. If not us, who?

Much was made last Friday about the little green Tholl Fencing signs that pervade our community and how those now dot heaven. I have no doubt that is true — he certainly left such a sign on NHS and in all of our hearts.

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