Home safe

The SPCA of Northern Nevada scrimps and saves to afford to give homeless pets a place to stay, and the promise is good for life

Jacob Winn, 5, contemplates a pet kitty.

Jacob Winn, 5, contemplates a pet kitty.

Photo By David Robert

The SPCA shelter is at 840 E. Fifth St. For info, call 324-7773.

Buster, a powerfully built black and brown dog, lacks the cuteness of a puppy, though his robust playfulness is evident to all who pass his chain-link enclosure. As of this writing, Buster had awaited adoption at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter for two months—far longer than most shelters could allow him to wait for a new home.

“He’s one of our usuals,” said Terry, a staff worker.

The cats and dogs of the SPCA of Northern Nevada resemble those one might find at any animal shelter. The cats stretch lazily across their carpeted spaces; the dogs eagerly press their noses to the fencing to welcome passersby. What is different about the animals at the SPCA is that they have a guarantee of safety. Each one will sooner or later find a home.

The SPCA is the only shelter in Reno with a no-kill policy. This means that no matter how long an adoptable cat or dog stays with the shelter, it won’t face euthanasia. The SPCA of Northern Nevada, which is an independent associate of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), describes its mission as one of providing a lifetime commitment to each animal it takes in. This means that even if a pet is brought back following a previous adoption, it will still have a place under the SPCA’s roof.

Linda Drake, executive director of the SPCA of Northern Nevada, works from her office at the organization’s thrift store on East Fourth Street, just a few blocks from the shelter’s location beneath the Wells Street overpass. She began with the SPCA in 2003 after several years working for a San Francisco-based animal-rescue organization. Heading the SPCA from a modest workspace packed with donated furniture and equipment, Drake speaks with a kindness and patience reflective of the SPCA’s commitment to its animals.

His sister Marissa, dad Robert and pet dog Brutus get to know Buddy, the dog they ended up adopting from the SPCA shelter.

Photo By David Robert

“Our main goal is to see as many adoptable animals as possible find a home,” Drake said. “Being a rescue organization has been one of our missions since we began in 1998, and we still carry that out today. We work with the municipal shelters to save as many adoptable pets as we can.”

Although the SPCA faces a formidable task, its funding comes from only a few sources. Unlike municipal shelters, the SPCA receives no public funds, instead relying on private donations and the revenue generated from its thrift store and adoption center. Drake said that balancing the SPCA’s many goals with its limited funds requires a lot of care and a fair amount of sacrifice.

“We are a very conservative organization when it comes to spending money,” Drake said. “It’s expensive to do this. We still pay rent and utilities in our buildings, and the adoption fees don’t cover the expenses we pay for each animal. We have only 20 employees to run an organization that adopts more than 1,500 animals per year.”

But it’s clear that the staff at the SPCA are not discouraged by the constraints of their budget or the size of their mission. Kim Musser, shelter manager at the SPCA, said that she concerns herself more with the task of matching animals with good homes than anything else.

“Making sure the animals go to a good home is the biggest challenge we have,” Musser said. “Sometimes we will do a seemingly good adoption only to find out later that it didn’t work. But, the biggest reward is when we do a really good adoption. We have some animals that have special needs, and it’s great when we can match them up with the right home.”

The SPCA works closely with other shelters, such as the Nevada Humane Society and Reno Animal Services. And, while no other shelter in Reno has yet enacted a no-kill policy, Drake said that the municipal shelters do a fantastic job in working with the SPCA to find good homes for as many pets as possible.

SPCA of Northern Nevada executive director Linda Drake plays with Tommy, a stray who was picked up in June suffering from a hole in his eye. Tommy is recovering from surgery and has been adopted.

Photo By David Robert

“I know that all of the people involved with the municipal shelters really are committed to doing as much as possible to make sure that every adoptable animal gets adopted,” Drake said. “And, it’s important when you’re involved in a no-kill shelter that you don’t get too self-righteous about it. This is our mission, and we’ve chosen to be an organization that follows our animals throughout their lives. But a lot of organizations don’t have the possibility to do that.”

In addition to the regular staff, the SPCA also relies on a base of volunteers who regularly pledge time to care for the animals. One mother-and-daughter volunteer team said they visit the shelter four to five times each week to help. The mother, Stacy Terry, said that volunteering at the SPCA is a way for her and her 11-year-old daughter, Zoe, to help area animals.

“I started home-schooling my children two-and-a-half months ago, and I wanted them to have a way to get involved in the community,” Terry said. “It’s good to know that when we go take five dogs for a walk, as we did earlier this week, that five dogs will be able to sleep that night knowing that someone cares about them. It’s very satisfying to think that we make a little difference in the community. At least I know Buster thinks so.”

With that, Terry reached down to pet Buster, who was enjoying a game of fetch with Zoe. Even though he’s an older dog, he still enjoys an active routine, according to a staff worker.

Among the SPCA’s staff and volunteers, a deep regard for animal welfare is plainly evident. Besides the adoption services it provides at the shelter, the SPCA also holds weekly adoptions at the Reno Petsmart stores and works to promote spaying and neutering to prevent further increases in the number of unwanted animals.

“There wouldn’t be a need for euthanasia in this county if everyone spayed and neutered their pets,” Drake said.

Although the struggles related to pet overpopulation and animal welfare will likely be issues for years to come, the staff at the SPCA appear eager to continue their efforts. And, while they will serve the cause as professionals, their motivations are unmistakably personal.

“The greatest reward we see is the bond that occurs between humans and animals here,” Drake said. “We have some really wonderful stories that come back to us. It’s still really rewarding when we match up an animal with the perfect home.”