Nye County launches investigation into animal shelter

Desert Haven Animal Society is currently under investigation by Nye County, following a series of reported complaints regarding the conditions at the Pahrump Animal Shelter.

However, shelter workers and volunteers are not about to allow the accusations go unrefuted, mounting a vigorous defense of the shelter during the Nye County Commission’s Nov. 20 meeting.

Either way, one thing has risen to the surface as a certainty: the shelter is in dire need of a new building as the 20-plus-year-old facility is simply too small to provide adequate space for all of the animals that must be housed there on a daily basis.

At the Nov. 20 meeting, commissioners were set to address the possible termination of the lease with Desert Haven, which has been running the local animal shelter since mid-2016.

“On Nov. 8, 2018 the county manager sent a letter to Desert Haven Animal Society, noticing them of being in default of the lease with the intent to terminate due to failing to maintain a safe shelter and also failing to provide financial reports and intake and outcome reports for animals pursuant to the lease agreement and MOU (memorandum of understanding,” the agenda item read, referring to the agreement between the county and shelter regarding the $50,000 subsidy for operation.

“The county manager has received numerous reports of unhealthy or inhumane conditions, mistreatment of relationships with local veterinarians and lack of cooperation and abandonment of the assistance from Maddie’s Pet Project, a nonprofit organization employed to help the shelter with management.”

The information attached to the item included letters from various organizations such as Maddie’s Pet Project, the Nevada Humane Society and Nye County Animal Control, along with individuals, all of which claimed terrible conditions within the shelter and a lack of proper care for the animals, such as unprovided vaccinations and dirty kennels.

Desert Haven provided its own information to counter those claims, declaring that the statements made by others were completely false and that the health and well-being of the animals is the shelter’s No. 1 priority.

The picture during the meeting was no less muddled with contradictory reports from those speaking. Many meeting attendees took to the microphone to blast the shelter management as inexperienced, asserting that the lack of knowledge was creating an inhumane environment.

Desert Haven defenders on the other hand asserted that the multiple complaints were nothing more than sour grapes and an attempt to take over the shelter by Maddie’s Pet Project, a point of view with which commissioner Donna Cox apparently agreed. Still others did not so much as lay blame at Desert Haven’s door but spoke out in general about their concerns with the aging, cramped building.

After a full 30 minutes of public comment in which it was a back and forth of residents speaking both for and against terminating the lease agreement, Cox said she did not think it appropriate to jump to a snap decision on the issue.

Instead, she supported the suggestion that a formal investigation be performed to determine whether there was any truth to the allegations, a recommendation that Desert Haven’s attorney Tom Gibson put forth.

“Instead of just making a rash decision based on a lot of people’s well-meaning but misplaced anger and hostility, why don’t we have the entire commission… or other independent individuals go in and video, gather statements and do this properly?” Gibson said. “I’d ask that we set this off… for the matter to be properly investigated and we can have the information that you need to make a proper decision, one that will benefit the county and not just certain individuals.”

Cox was amenable to the idea, noting that she had visited the shelter on Nov. 4 and did not see any of the problems that were being reported. She made a motion to initiate an investigation into the accusations against the shelter, adding investigation of the shelter’s financials at the request of commissioner Lorinda Wichman.

Despite predictions that an investigation would only result in a repeat of that morning’s situation with one side claiming one thing and the other disputing it, the motion passed 3-1 with commission chairman John Koenig against and commissioner Dan Schinhofen absent. The investigation is set to conclude next year when the commission will readdress the matter during its second February meeting.

While there may not have been much agreement between the opposing sides, one thing everyone did seem to concur with is the need for a new shelter.

“The shelter is overwhelmed. There are cages in the aisleways, it’s simply overwhelmed,” Robert Adams, a former Pahrump Town Board member, stated. “The only solution, whether with Maddie’s or with the current administration, it needs more space. There are probably 40 to 50 animals that need to be moved someplace else.”

Tina Wilson, who works at the shelter, declared, “Shorthanded? Yes. Overwhelmed? Yes. We have dogs in the aisleways? Yes. Because it is the same size shelter that it was 20 years ago. And how many more people do we have now than 20 years ago?”

“I don’t think the problem is the animals or the people taking care of them, the problem is that we need a new shelter,” Cox proclaimed and commissioner Butch Borasky added his voice to the issue, stating, “We don’t have enough shelter space and we don’t have enough money to care for the animals. To find a resolution to that is not going to be easy.”

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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