Gimme shelter

More information can be found at the Nevada Humane Society’s website,

I once fell in love on Valentine’s Day. It was almost two years ago, but I still remember the young, gray pit bull named Benne who sat at my feet while I ran a station at the Nevada Humane Society’s speed dating event. Although I managed to spare a few days for volunteering every so often, I was—like many potential pet owners—unable to financially support a new dog. SoI never saw him again.

Despite the poor economy, monetary donations to the Nevada Humane Society have remained relatively steady, according to Community Programs Director Diane Blankenburg. However, animals around the United States have suffered and lost homes as a result of their owners being hurt by the economic recession.

“There certainly seems to be a rise in animals that aren’t getting redeemed from Animal Services,” Blankenburg said. “Also, we’re seeing a rise in the number of animals that come in with some kind of health or medical conditions. What that often says is that people can’t afford to take care of them themselves, and what that means for us is that we have greater costs.”

The Nevada Humane Society currently houses 150-200 dogs and 300-400 cats, in addition to some horses and small animals such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. About 100 other animals are living with foster homes, due in part to the high demand for space and care at the Humane Society, which is one of many no-kill animal shelters in the United States.

No-kill animal shelters are a relatively new phenomenon—the concept didn’t become popular until the 1990s. In 1994, San Francisco became one of the first U.S. cities whose Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals guaranteed a home for every “adoptable” animal in its system. In 1998, California began passing legislation to improve the quality of life for animals in shelters, including laws requiring the spaying or neutering of pets before adopting and prohibiting the use of carbon monoxide to euthanize animals.

The Nevada Humane Society in Reno began its transition to a no-kill system in 2007. In 2010, the Humane Society reported a 91 percent save rate for both cats and dogs, calculated by comparing the number of animals adopted or returned to owners to the number of those remaining at the shelter over the course of one year.

“We do not put down any animal for space or time,” Blankenburg said. “The only cases where we do put down animals would be in the case of one that was too sick or injured, that there was not a good prognosis for quality of life or, in the case of some dogs that are too aggressive, so they pose a risk to the community. That’s what ‘no-kill shelter’ means to us. That’s what we are.”

However, the state of being a no-kill shelter puts additional strain on the Nevada Humane Society during busier times to find homes for animals.

“We have to work hard in a lot of very innovative adoption programs so that we’re getting animals adopted out pretty quickly so we can then turn around and have room for others to come in,” Blankenburg said.

The Humane Society relies upon volunteers to perform tasks such as walking dogs, tabling at special events and fostering kittens that need to be bottle-fed. And with those tear-jerking Sarah McLachlan commercials playing in your face for the entire holiday season, how can anyone resist?

“There are three things one can do,” Blankenburg said. “One is, obviously, to adopt animals. That’s always a help. A second way is to volunteer services and time to us to help get the work done that we need to get done. If they do have limited funding, we’re always looking for assistance. And the third thing is to directly donate money to the organization so that we can afford to run the programs that we run and pay for the expenses that we have here.”