NHS Owes it to the Volunteers

A little behind the curtain information—I most often write this column at home splayed out on the couch or sitting up in bed. That maybe more information than you were looking for but it’s the truth. Honestly, it can be hard to find the time and quiet space to collect my thoughts and compose something even resembling coherent at my office. I’d like to, and often do, blame my office cat/boss Sebastian for this as he favors laying on my keyboard and batting me in the face—but that’s just one of the perks of working at Nevada Humane Society and has little impact on my productivity. You work around the cat; anyone with cats know that. I’d like to blame my phone ringing off the hook and the constant need for me to leap from my chair to save lives. Not true either. I am busy, but most of the lifesaving, last minute heroics and seat of your pants field responses are done by the capable staff and volunteers of NHS. The real reason my office is so hectic is a result of the sheer volume of what NHS does on a day to day basis. This place is hopping (and not just in the bunny room—I know, bad joke) around the clock.

Pets for Life staff is out the door before the break of dawn to engage underserved populations, the clinic starts revving well before 7:00 am in preparation for the 70 or so animals that will visit them that day, the cleaning of the kennels and catteries starts early and never ceases, volunteers set up for our Pet Food Assistance Program , members of our C.A.T. team hit the streets early, the Animal Resource Center prepares to field hundreds of calls every day, volunteers jet off in different directions to set up offsite adoption events, our Emergency Response Teams gears up and prepares for whatever may come, and so, so, so much more. It’s dizzying. Oh, and all the while NHS takes in 16,000 animals a year in Washoe County and Carson City. Take my word for it, it’s a lot.

You may wonder, as anyone would, how all or any of this is possible. Finally, an easy question—our volunteers! Over 8,000 volunteers suit up to make this place tick and make our unrivaled lifesaving possible. Without hyperbole or grandiosity, I can assure you that Nevada Humane Society could not function without our volunteers and none of our stratospheric outcomes would be possible without them. These folks are a force of nature.

Volunteers make the NHS world go round. I am too imperfect a writer to properly intone the impact they make and the lives they change. They are remarkable people. Our volunteers give up their weekends, evenings, holidays, and hearts to ensure that every animal in our community that needs a home, gets a home. There’s no aspect of NHS that isn’t impacted by volunteers. They are an army of good—they’ve changed our community, forever, for better.

This past week was National Volunteer Appreciate Week. A week isn’t long enough and we don’t say it often enough, but thank you to our extraordinary, superlative volunteers. I was pulling into NHS just today and saw a multitude of volunteers out walking dogs around the shelter. As we parked I saw one of our most omnipresent volunteers, Rosemarie, sitting with an older dog enjoying each other’s company. What a difference Rosemarie made for that homeless animal—she was his friend, she reminded him that people care. If home is where the heart is, a breathtaking number of amazing people call NHS home. We are so grateful, honored and humbled. Well over 70,000 animals adopted since 2007 owe you, our volunteers, a standing ovation and buckets of gratitude. Thank you for being you!

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Making Test Animals Available for Adoption

Author disclaimer: I am the proud owner of a seven-year-old rescued beagle. I am far from impartial.

Names can be deceiving. Just today I received a call from a local concerned citizen who was upset at a political position the Humane Society of the United States had taken. I explained to the gentleman that Nevada Humane Society is not affiliated with HSUS; their positions are not ours, nor ours theirs. NHS is not a chapter of a larger nationwide organization, nor a branch or franchise of any other organization – not for better or worse, these are just the facts. We are a wholly independent, 501(c)3 charity incorporated in Nevada, nowhere else. This becomes important in a bit.

Nevada Humane Society is not a political entity. We don’t make political donations, we don’t choose sides, we are not an advocacy organization. What we are is the state’s leading animal welfare organization and one of the most heralded animal welfare charities in that nation. We concern ourselves with saving lives and protecting pets. To that end, we sometimes urge our assembly members and senators to support or oppose or even introduce legislation to protect pets and save lives. It’s a very small part of what we do, but every two years when our elected leaders converge on Carson City, it is an important part of what we do. In addition to impacting the business of saving lives (no one is paid to conduct this advocacy, it is a volunteer endeavor,) our laws are a reflection of ourselves and our values.

As I am sure you are aware, as the happenings are often highlighted in this fine paper, it has been a busy session for our hard-working and very busy legislators. They have a lot on their plate and they have serious issues facing them. A few, a very few, of these bills affect companion animals. Nevada Humane Society speaks up on those we deem impactful, in the positive or the negative, to our mission.

One such bill that we believe is very important, and I confess hits very close to home, is Senate Bill 261. This bill, if passed, would require laboratories in Nevada to make the animals upon which they conduct medical and scientific tests available for adoption after their service to society is completed. The bill would also limit the testing period to two years unless otherwise required by the nature of the research. Pretty harmless, huh?

I imagine many of you were unaware that labs test upon dogs, much less that it occurs here in Nevada, and here in Washoe County. They do and it does, but that’s not the focus of this bill. Currently, large animal testing is required for the approval of many drugs and treatments. This is the reality. As the son of a stroke survivor, the grandson of a cancer survivor, and someone living with a degenerative eye disease – I know firsthand that when our loved ones become ill, we want treatment to be readily available. Brilliant and dedicated professionals in the medical field toil to develop these treatments and to ensure they make it to the marketplace. Testing on animals is often required to make all of the above possible. This is reality. SB 261 is not about that.

Beagles are by far the most common dogs used for medical research. Why? Because of their loving, docile, friendly demeanor. This is just the reality. Again, SB 261 doesn’t attack, mitigate, abate, judge or restrict medical testing on dogs or any other animal. SB 261 would create a limit on the number of years an animal could be continuously tested upon (with an exception for studies that require more longitudinal results) and would grant these canine heroes a second chance… a life after their service. It seems to me that these dogs deserve hazard pay – or at least a family and a home to call their own after their service to society is complete. A small thank you, a deserved respite, the right thing to do.

You’ve heard me say that Washoe County and Carson City are two of the most humane communities in the nation and it’s true. Yet, can we continue to turn a blind eye to this reality? Can we pretend these dogs don’t count? Some may say this restricts business, some may say legislation is not required – the retort is simple: it doesn’t, and it is. Right is right and fair is fair.

This community is remarkable, this state is special. Our laws should reflect our values. Our thanks to the canaries in the coal mines of medical progress deserve our thanks and a home. Pass Senate Bill 261.

This article reflects the language in SB 261 at the time the article was written.

Kevin Ryan is the CEO of the Nevada Humane Society.

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