Heart attack

Billy Howard

PHOTO/D. Brian Burghart

It's probably not a rare thing when the national Humane Society calls to tell a reporter about a local activist, but maybe it's more unusual when their call is informative. That was the case with a call about Billy Howard. He turned out to be an activist force of nature, and he has received national recognition for his Northern Nevada efforts to help animals.

How did you get involved in the puppy mill thing?

I do a lot of advocacy, and I have a number of initiatives going. You guys have written about my proposal to end the sale and distribution of foie gras. I’ve been working on that for the last year, organizing the community on it. I’m also looking at trying to end animal testing in the area in laboratories. I also have founded Reno’s vegan group, and I’m the former chair of the Green Party in Nevada. Lots of other things.

So you are busy!

It’s always important, wherever I am, to get very, very, very involved. I was the chair of my neighborhood advisory board, which was an appointment by the City Council … and there’s more. But I’ll just leave it at that just now.

I called because of the press release from the Humane Society, and I was wondering whether you had any input on that pet shop on Virginia Street closing.

You asked me how I got involved. Well, I’ve been a vegan for 40 years of my life. I’ve been aware of a lot of animal cruelty situations for many decades, one of which is the puppy mill situation. For decades we all felt that there was just nothing we could do. We were facing the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], and they were facing us down, and there just wasn’t anything we could do. Very interestingly, in South Lake Tahoe, they passed the second [local ordinance] to end the sale of cats and dogs in retail stores in the country back in 2009, and that was the one that catalyzed the entire country to do this locally on a grassroots level. And now 74 cities and counties throughout North America have passed this ban, and many, many are on the table at the moment, just like they are here in Washoe County and Carson City. … I called around to the local organizations, and asked, “OK, what are you doing? I want to help.” And everyone said, “We’re not doing anything, but we’d really be behind it if someone were.” So the writing was on the wall and on 7-11-2013, I began PuppyMillFreeReno. [Visit at puppymillfreereno.com.]

And what have you accomplished here?

I’ve done a tremendous amount of outreach to the community. I had a week and a half-long event at the university, which we called Puppymill Awareness Week, which we had sponsorship with the university on—the student union and the psychology department. I had two speaking engagements, and I had a booth that got 600 signatures over the course of a single day. [It’s over 13,300 now.] We had a huge rally where we had seven speakers on animal activism come and speak to large crowds on compassion in our community, and how when we look toward treating animals with the respect and dignity that they deserve, how that might make all of us treat each other that much better. [Also two of three of Reno’s puppy-sales stores have shut down.]

Have you found that to be true?

It’s my last-ditch effort. I’ve worked in human rights and animal rights since I was a kid. My mom got me engaged back in the late ’60s when Ronald Reagan was releasing the mentally ill into the community, without a safety net in many cases, and she took me to Sacramento, and we stood on the steps protesting Ronald Reagan when I was 10 years old. It hasn’t stopped since. I have my mom to thank for my compassion and my passion. To say whether we know for sure whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but if we have a heart for the most helpless and the most voiceless of all on this planet—and the animals deserve that at the very least—I think it will change our hearts toward each other. The problem is we don’t have much time to lose.