Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Guest Columnist: Janie Greenspun Gale tells how things really unfolded at animal shelter

Janie Greenspun Gale, a member of the family that owns the Las Vegas Sun, is a member of The Animal Foundation's board.

The headline blaring recently in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that I had given $11 million to The Animal Foundation brought funny reactions.

My husband almost choked when he saw it and my brother Danny quipped that now I was going to get on the "Rich List," a manual sent out to fund raisers and development people all over the country.

Another friend asked whether the R-J just hates rich people and my nephew wondered whether that was the best scandal the R-J could come up with that day.

I am a philanthropist. That's what I do. I give time and money to causes and projects I believe in, and so far I've done quite well. The Springs Preserve is a project I was honored to lead from its earliest stages. If you haven't been there, you must see it.

The Animal Foundation has been a huge passion of mine for a very long time because I believe in the cause of stopping the killing of animals. It is my deepest desire. I don't eat them or wear them and I love dogs most of all. How ironic is it then that I wound up in the terrible position of being in charge of the organization charged with killing all the animals nobody wants.

What doesn't get mentioned in the angry words of the two women who keep hammering on what happened in February at the Lied Animal Shelter - when 1,000 animals had to be put to sleep because of disease brought on by overcrowding or because they had been there too long as outlined in graphic, gory details in a Humane Society of the United States report - are two very important parts to the story.

First of all, at least 1,000 animals are put to sleep every month at the shelter . That's the sad reality. California killed 500,000 shelter animals last year. About 6 million are killed every year in this country.

The other fact is that I called the Humane Society of the United States for help. I personally paid a lot of money for the visit. That report was private. I agreed to release it.

We were drowning in animals. Our policies that had worked in the past of spaying and neutering animals before they went to the adoption center, where they would stay until they found homes, worked pretty well when we were a smaller shelter serving only the city of Las Vegas.

That absolutely fell apart when we became the regional shelter two years ago, additionally serving Clark County and North Las Vegas.

With 200 or more animals coming in every day, the backlog of animals stuck in lost and found, waiting for surgery, contributed to the overcrowding. But we were committed to spay/neuter rather than kill. That is how and why The Animal Foundation began. And we became a shelter at a time in this country when a no-kill sensibility was emerging. We aspired to do it.

It is still an ideal, but it is not possible with the numbers of animals in this community.

This region has grown enormously since 1995, when we first received a contract with the city of Las Vegas, and this explosive growth required us to build a larger facility and then to expand it.

We care about the environment and accept the science behind global warming, and the Animal Foundation was committed to the shelter being a green building. It's who we are.

I signed my name to a contract with our architects and a construction company, chosen because they were the only LEED-certified builders in the state at the time, agreeing that the money would be there as the project was completed at Mojave and Bonanza roads. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and going for that accreditation added about $4 million to the project.

Construction was pretty much a nightmare, beginning when the first bulldozer uncovered an old abandoned sewer tank and illegal garbage dump. That cost $1 .5 million to mitigate.

My thinking was that if we could make the shelter three times larger, and make it comfortable for the dogs that were staying with us for months and months, and if we could build a beautiful shelter that people would want to bring their children to, and those children might get inspired by the science behind it all, plus more animals could get adopted, then we might solve this problem of pet overpopulation.

Only about 20 percent of pets in this country come from shelters. We can't adopt them out if you all don't come in.

We had accepted that some animals had to be put down. We have been doing this for more than 10 years. During that time we have spayed and neutered more than 200,000 animals, found new homes for more than 100,000 and reunited thousands of owners with their lost pets. We can't make people look for their lost pets and only about 12 percent to 14 percent of the owners come looking.

Not every animal coming into a shelter is a family pet. Some are really mean, vicious in fact. Some have been hit by cars or are feral and panic-stricken. About 400 feral cats are brought in every month. Some babies are so tiny they couldn't be helped and would suffer and die if we didn't humanely put them to sleep.

We tried to keep the numbers of those killings as low as we possibly could, but when you have 200 or more animals coming in every day, it is impossible. I spent a fortune on medicine for the sick ones.

Not only is it impossible, it is unsustainable. The city of Las Vegas pays us about $24 a day per animal. It costs us - to comply with all the policies and procedures specified in best practices by the Humane Society of the United States, and adopted unanimously by the Board of The Animal Foundation and required of us to adhere to by the city, county and North Las Vegas - $118 per day. You do the math.

It cost about $10,000 a month for vaccines, so we determined, after consulting with our vets, that animals that we knew were going to be put down weren't vaccinated , because we were told vaccines took 10 days to become effective.

Owner turn-ins that we knew had been vaccinated were given boosters and always puppies and kittens if they were old enough. Have I mentioned we started a foster program to care for puppies and kittens and their mothers if they had one?

Shelter employment rose from about 60 to 160 in just a few months. Training was a luxury we couldn't afford. People were handed a mop and a broom and told where to start. Drug testing was affordable only on hiring.

We weren't allowed by law to perform random testing, the exception being if someone were bitten or scratched and went to a doctor. Our insurance soared, as did our power and water bills. We fundraised constantly. I wound up bailing out what we didn't raise most months.

In my heart I knew we could make this project successful. And thanks to that visit by the Humane Society of the United States, it has become just that. We have a brilliantly talented executive director, Christine Robinson, who has saved us much money and really crunched the numbers and is now negotiating a better, more realistic contract with the city.

She is working on a standard contract that all entities using the services we provide will have to sign. She has also brought on board Darrin Landrum from a shelter in Texas, recruited for us by the Humane Society of the United States. He has been a godsend. They both lead with their heads and hearts.

And I have learned that no matter how much heart and soul and money The Animal Foundation Board members and I have poured into this community shelter, which is beautiful and green and where the animals are well cared for and safe now, we can't solve this problem alone. It is up to the community.

You have to decide what kind of a community you want to be. Should we have mandatory spay/neuter laws so only professional breeders can breed animals? Tell your elected officials. Should we allow pit bulls and other bully breeds to be bred indiscriminately so that 60 percent of the shelter is filled with them?

The R-J, instead of criticizing me, can help. Both the city and county have ordinances requiring the newspaper to accept ads for puppies only if there are breeding license numbers attached to them. Anyone see breeding license numbers in any of the ads for the tons of puppies advertised for sale in the R-J on Sunday? How about the day they slammed me?

We have taken the community shelter a long way. It's up to the city council and the mayor, who we hope will stop the rhetoric, to work with us. It's up to the county and North Las Vegas to support their animal control officers and hire new ones to enforce laws already on the books. But most of all it is up to those of you who care about this issue and want to make your community shelter the model place we, of The Animal Foundation, dreamed it could be.

As far as I can tell, we have given this community a wonderful shelter with the best team we could find to run it. That is the real story of The Animal Foundation.

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