Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

I cannot believe it is already October! I was busy lamenting this fact, chastising myself for squandering my first summer in Northern Nevada indoors when I was reminded of one of the reasons I love October (other than college football, playoff baseball and Halloween). October is Adopt a Shelter Dog month! Now, I can understand that this may not be big news to you, but to me and the folks I am lucky enough to work with at Nevada Humane Society, this is cause for adulation and occasional, spontaneous dancing. National organizations, local animal welfare groups, and passionate dog lovers will try and spread one simple, yet profoundly important message—shelter dogs are great and you should have one (or three).
It probably carries no shock value to announce that I, Kevin Ryan, think you ought to adopt a shelter dog this October, November, or any other time of year. I am in the lifesaving business and the key, the very crux of our lifesaving effort here in Northern Nevada is adoption. Some communities transfer animals out to the far reaches of our country where shelter dogs are less abundant, some groups focus on lateral shelter transfers, but we here in Northern Nevada have built our success upon one element —you. You have built this no-kill community, you have defined the “Nevada Humane Society Model,” you are the rock we have built our future successes upon. Our lifesaving model incorporates many important elements; a 2,500 family strong foster program, an 8,000 person volunteer army, a robust and rapidly expanding spay/neuter program, partnerships with wonderful community organizations, a commitment to help keep loved animals in their existing homes, and a HUGE adoptions program. The above is not a laundry list of all of the steps that led to the forging of this community’s nearly unmatched success in lifesaving, but it’s a good list. The lynch pin, as I mentioned, are the big-hearted families that make up this community. We develop all sorts of wacky promotions to convince you to come adopt a shelter animal, and we’ll keep doing that, but in the end I think you might do it anyway. This community is convinced, you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, you’re on the bus, you believe. This community adopts 20 shelter animals per 1,000 people —that’s more than Denver, more than Las Vegas, and more per capita than almost anyone.
When I sat down to write this column I planned to write it about misconceptions about shelter dogs, in honor of their month. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized you didn’t need convincing. I can’t tell you anything you show me every day. National data models show us that many communities view shelter dogs as “damaged goods,” “unadoptable,” “broken” or even “inherently dangerous.” You know that’s not true, as odds are you’re sitting with a shelter animal right now who has, better than I can, already shown you the folly of the above perception.
I honestly planned to tell you the story of an amazing shelter dog that confounds all the aforementioned negative (and patently wrong) stereotypes. Yet again, what can I tell you that you don’t already know? You already know the story of an amazing rescue dog —yours. I hope you’ll visit our Facebook page (facebook.com/nevadahumanesociety) and tell us the story of your amazing dog (or cat). In honor of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and in honor of your special furry family member, in my next column we’ll feature your adopted pet!

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The 4th of July always serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a nation that places such a high premium on freedom, liberty and service. This, the most patriotic time of year, provides us an opportunity to celebrate our national pride, gather with family and friends, and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. We should, and many of us do, also take time out of the celebrations and hoopla to thank those who served in our nation’s military and safeguarded our freedoms. The sacrifices borne by the men and women who volunteer to protect our way of life are immense, and Nevada Humane Society is committed to doing our part to support these patriots, especially those wounded in the call of duty.

It may appear that most of the programs at Nevada Humane Society are geared solely toward animals – just dogs and cats even. In reality, during the past year we have housed cats, dogs, horses, cows, pigs, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, ferrets, birds, chinchillas, gerbils, hamsters, and even a rodent called a degu. Moreover, many of NHS’ programmatic elements and much of our development is focused on the people, especially the families who reside in Northern Nevada. While all of our programs have a pet tilt (we are Nevada Humane Society after all), much of our focus is on enriching the lives of people living in our community. Pets are, quantitatively so, a quality of life issue. All of the above was on our minds when we developed our G.I. DOGS program two years ago.

G.I. DOGS is a NHS initiative of which we are incredibly proud and one that is particularly close to my heart. This program matches wounded warriors who have been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) with rescue dogs. Once a match has been made, veterans and their new pets undergo an extensive and rigorous training program–led by a nationally recognized trainer who is himself a veteran of the Marine Corps–through which the dog transitions to a certified service animal. The dogs are specifically trained to assist the veterans with issues related to their diagnosis.

I am sure I don’t have to detail the devastating effects of PTSD and/or TBI or the tremendous scope of the problem. According to Sandro Galea, a physician, epidemiologist and professor at Columbia University, “We are at the cusp of a wave of PTSD.” According the Veteran’s Administration, there are over 650,000 veterans suffering from service-related PTSD today. Some staggering statistics: 18,000 veterans take their lives every year; every 65 minutes a veteran commits suicide; 1 in 5 suicides in America are that of a veteran. We hope that G.I. DOGS can continue to be a service to those who served us and can play a small part in rolling back this heartbreaking tide.

The power of this program is summed up in a story told to me by G.I. DOGS Program Director Mitch Schneider. A participating veteran, who wishes to remain anonymous, recounted his journey through the G.I. DOGS succinctly but poignantly. He said that prior to entering the program he thought about suicide each and every morning. Since getting his service dog, he has not had suicidal thoughts once. This program changes and saves lives.

Events that help animals:

50 Shades of Spay Beginning this month, residents of 89431 may have their personal pet dogs spayed or neutered for a discounted fee of just $20 at the Nevada Humane Society Clinic, thanks to funding sponsored by PetSmart Charities®. Call 775-856-2000 ext 333 to make an appointment today.

Duck Race and Festival August 24, join the fun at Nevada Humane Society’s Annual Duck Race. Join us at Wingfield Park in Reno for a day of family fun and the chance to win great prizes, a cash jackpot and our Grand Prize, a Ford Fiesta generously donated by Dick Campagni’s Carson Auto Group! To adopt a duck visit www.nevadahumanesociety.org today!

Despite My Job, I’m No Expert in Animal Training

Often, because of my job, people assume that I am an expert in all things animal, including training. Any of you who have seen my beagle, Doyle, and me on the streets and in the parks of Reno know that we are not dog training honor graduates, despite attending several training programs and owning a number of gentle leaders and humane harnesses.

However, Doyle and I are soon headed back to training because I believe it truly makes a positive difference in the dog-human relationship. There are lots of skilled dog trainers and “behaviorists” in our community who can help dogs and owners live happier lives together. Training techniques vary, so it’s important to do your homework and find a trainer with an approach that feels compatible with you and your dog.

In the animal sheltering world, finding assessment, modification and behavioral interpretation that works for the organization is essential. It’s the key to creating differentiation between animals who are safe to adopt out into our community and those who are not.

At NHS, we take the role of saving animal lives while keeping our community safe incredibly seriously, and approach both responsibilities with equal levels of concern and sobriety. To this end, NHS brings national experts in animal behavior and sheltering to our community every year.

Dr. Kate Hurley, program director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at University of California, Davis, spoke at NHS in October about an innovative approach to community cat management. Just this past week, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant Kelley Bollen spent four days at NHS educating staff, community members and animal professionals from around the region on animal behavior assessment, enrichment and modification techniques.

I know of nowhere in America where the community’s shelter puts more time, energy and resources into using scientifically substantiated, innovative methods to save animals and protect the public. This commitment to using only predictive and research-based, scientifically supported assessments in a keystone of NHS. So is our nation-leading animal lifesaving rate. We are as proud of our stewardship of homeless, forgotten and abandoned animals as we are of our dedication to the safety of Washoe County. Moreover, I am so proud to part of a community that so values a lifetime approach to learning and continual improvement.

Kevin M. Ryan is chief executive officer of the Nevada Humane Society.

Events That Help Animals:

The Great Cat Snip through April 30: Have your feline friend spay or neutered for $25 at Nevada Humane Society. Appointments are required; call 775-856-2000, ext. 333.

Walk for the Animals, May 24th Join animals lovers from all over Northern Nevada at the Sparks Marina for the 7th annual Walk for the animals. A fun filled day of music, entertainment and walking to save lives. Online registration and other details available at http://www.nevadahumanesociety.org.

Moving Forward to End Local Support of Puppy Mills

Three cheers to the Reno City Council. Our community owes a heartfelt thank you to the Mayor and council members for unanimously voting this week to impose a 180-day moratorium on issuing new business licenses to stores who sell pets. This vote is big step forward in ending our community’s support of puppy mills. Our community stood up for and took responsibility for those who cannot speak for themselves. Once again I am reminded of what a special place this is.

The facts are very simple. The majority of dogs offered for sale in pet stores are sourced from large-scale breeding operations, better known as puppy mills. The practice is every bit as inhumane as it sounds. I have had the misfortune to witness first-hand the devastation, horror, and abuse animals held in mill situations endure. This is not breeding– it is manufacturing. It is dirty and it is grim. Puppy mills and stores profiting from this malfeasance have no place in Washoe County, one of the most humane communities in America. By eliminating the revenue and outlets for perpetrators of this cruelty we can help end puppy mills and with one voice say, “not in our town. “

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s explore exactly what we are talking about. As defined by the ASPCA “A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects.”

Dogs from puppy mills are often unsocialized, fearful and at higher risk of a myriad of genetic maladies ranging from kidney disease to blood disorders. They often arrive in pet stores, and often their new homes, with a host of diseases that could put the purchased puppy, existing pets, and even their new owners at risk.

More heart-wrenching than all of the above is how the animals are treated before they leave the mills. Puppy mills usually house dogs in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without adequate veterinary care, food, water and socialization. To minimize cleanup, dogs are often kept in cages with wire flooring that injures their paws and legs—and it is not unusual for cages to be stacked up in columns. To maximize profits, dogs are bred at every opportunity with little to no recovery time between litters. After they are physically depleted to the point that they no longer can reproduce, the mothers are often killed.

Support of this “industry” has no place in our community. Obviously, I hope that you choose adoption as your first choice of pet acquisition. Twenty-five percent of canines in American shelters are purebred dogs. There are breed-specific rescues for every breed imaginable–just Google the breed rescue you are searching for. If still you cannot find that the perfect little four-pawed guy or gal for you, there are many wonderful, responsible breeders who can help you meet your match. You can find more helpful hints at nevadahumanesociety.org or ASPCA.org.

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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