Mark Robison: Concerned about animal shelter’s future in Nye

The Nye County Board of Commissioners voted last month to investigate the organization running the local animal shelter. The campaign I work for – Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada – is concerned about the shelter’s future.

A bit of background may be useful. A generous family living in northern Nevada named the Duffields loved their miniature schnauzer, Maddie, and they want every cat and dog to have as good a life as she did.

One year ago, they funded an ambitious plan to make sure every cat and dog in a Nevada shelter who is healthy or treatable finds a good home. This plan became Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada, and its emphasis is on supporting existing animal shelters and rescue groups so they can do what they do better.

This summer, we heard dire reports about the Nye County shelter. We offered to help, and an agreement with the group’s board was made for us to bring our staff and contractors, with years of shelter experience, to help.

To decrease overcrowding, we funded transfers of dozens of animals to Reno-area organizations. To decrease the chances of disease being spread at the shelter, we bought supplies and equipment. And to get the organization up to date on as many legal obligations as we could, we dug through piles of papers.

After just over two months, we were asked to leave and all other support was declined, including $330,000 in grant funding.

Which brings us to the shelter investigation. For it to be successful, a few basic things are needed:

Openness: The staff needs to be able to speak openly and honestly without fearing they’ll lose their jobs. This means the investigator cannot be known to those at the shelter, and confidentiality must be assured.

A full picture: The investigation needs to include multiple visits, including some that are unannounced. It’s too easy to do a quick cleaning and move animals around to give a false impression. The investigation also should include a full review of records past and present to determine accurately the disposition of each animal.

A qualified investigator: The investigation needs to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Shelter animals have different needs than those seen in private veterinary practice. It’s important to find someone from a veterinary school with a shelter medicine program or someone with years of success running a shelter – or both.

Such investigations can be expensive. One like this would cost at least $30,000, yet it’s important it be done for the animals’ well-being and for the taxpayers who deserve a shelter that does not spread disease and does not adopt out unspayed and unneutered animals who will increase the county’s expenses in the long run.

Once the county picks an investigator it feels comfortable with – and if the county cannot find the money in its budget – we would like to offer to pick up the bill for a choice that fits the above criteria. It’s too important to have a trustworthy animal shelter for Nye County to embark on an investigation that is anything less than thorough and impartial.

Mark Robison is co-executive director of Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada.

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