The Naysayers Fight Back

Washoe County, Nevada saved 91% of animals last year, despite a per capita intake rate seven times the rate of New York City. The vast majority of people in Washoe County support the No Kill initiative. But a small vocal minority of extremists want the No Kill policies thrown out, and the killing to resume. They advocate the “right” of taxpayers to have animals killed and dismiss the leadership of Washoe County Regional Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society as “radical.” The Nevada Humane Society put out a plea for their supporters to contact the Washoe County Commission in order to protect their lifesaving efforts. I wrote the following letter on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center, which was involved in the transition to a No Kill Washoe County.


The Honorable John Breternitz, Chair,
And Members of the Washoe County Commission
PO Box 11130
Reno, NV 89520

Dear Chairman Beternitz and Commissioners,

In 2006 and 2007, we conducted a series of Town Hall-type meetings and surveys to determine how the Washoe County community felt about its shelter system. Those efforts revealed deep dissatisfaction with the job being done in the community, especially among animal welfare stakeholders. The vast majority did not believe enough was being done to save lives. Moreover, several respondents felt betrayed. It had been their perception that if the voters approved the bond measure that allowed the new facility to be built and to guarantee funding for the program, the County would save the lives of animals. Laboring under that belief, many of them campaigned for the bond measure only to be disappointed when the new facility opened and the hoped for progress did not materialize. It was not until a change in leadership at both shelters that lifesaving success actually occurred.

Not surprisingly, under the success led by Ms. Brown and Mr. Schneider, public perception today stands in sharp contrast to what it was. With the help of the Reno Gazette Journal, a community survey in January 2009 revealed that public perception had completely turned around:

-¢      93% of Washoe County residents support the No Kill initiative;
-¢      95% gave positive ratings on adoption efforts and results; and,
-¢      93% indicated that the shelters have a “good” or “great” public image.

Notwithstanding the agenda of a vocal minority, this is success of which your community and its political leadership should be immensely proud. Indeed, the lifesaving results have not gone unnoticed across the country. The National Animal Control Association, a very conservative group of municipal shelter personnel picked Reno, Nevada as the location of their national conference and will include a site visit to your shelters where they will also receive training by staff from both facilities. Ms. Brown and Mr. Schneider, in addition to other county and humane society staff, have spoken at other national conferences as well. And in 2010, the Alliance for Innovation recognized Washoe County’s achievement at their national conference in Las Vegas on Transforming Local Government.

While the success is impressive, and worthy of your full support, the means to that success are hardly radical. They have been embraced by public officials and municipal shelters across the county in places as diverse as Shelby County, Kentucky; Charlottesville, Virginia; Porter County, Indiana; Allegany County, Maryland; Marquette, Michigan; Ivins City, Utah; Austin, Texas; and elsewhere.

Some of these communities are urban and some are rural. Some are in the North and some in the South. Some in politically conservative areas and others in liberal ones. Indeed, saving lives is not only good public policy, it is good bipartisan politics. In California, shelter reform legislation was sponsored by one of our state’s most liberal Senators and one of our most conservative Assembly Members. It passed 96 to 12, as close as one can get to unanimity in a state as large as California, and was signed into law by the Republican governor. In Delaware, a similar law passed both houses of the legislature unanimously, without a single vote in opposition. And in Austin, Texas, the City Council mandated similar policies by a 7-0 vote.

Unfortunately, because they cannot argue with the facts, opponents of this effort are left with attacking the messengers, choosing to malign both Ms. Brown and Mr. Schneider as “radical.” Schneider, an ex-marine, is hardly that. And Ms. Brown, whose background includes high end retail buying for large corporations, is also far from radical. In fact, while opponents of lifesaving argue that Washoe County Regional Animal Services and the Nevada Humane Society are trying to undermine the rights of pet owners, their policies are designed to provide good service to the community, and public satisfaction surveys prove that. It is the claim that taxpayer-funded shelters should be forced to kill healthy animals at taxpayer expense that is “radical” and out of touch with public sentiment. And is precisely the type of attitude that—when it defined the policies of Washoe County shelters—led to such great community dissatisfaction with those shelters.

Indeed, the view that shelters should continue killing in the face of readily available lifesaving alternatives is counter to how most Americans, including those in Washoe County, actually feel about animals. Even as other economic sectors decline, spending on our animal companions continues to increase every year, topping $50 billion annually. And giving to animal related charities is the fastest growing segment in American philanthropy. This is not “radical.” It is a reflection of how most people, Republicans and Democrats alike, feel. It is as American as apple pie. And codifying those values to allow for continued and even greater lifesaving is an effort Washoe County should welcome.

In a national survey, 96% of Americans—almost every single person—said we have a moral obligation to protect animals and should have strong laws to do so. Why should the taxpayers pay for killing, when the vast majority of people consider such actions anathema to good government? In fact, since the 1970s, California Courts have held that private individuals do not have a right to force taxpayer-funded shelters to kill healthy or treatable animals. To protect those rulings, California legislators overwhelmingly approved legislation to that effect.

The real issue here is that some people, who had a strong voice when killing was the norm, have found their power and influence marginalized now that killing is not. But that is how it should be. Their views are outside community norms and values and they are lashing out. Unfortunately, such individuals are not unique to Washoe County. These voices can also be found in other communities which are working to emulate Washoe County’s success. Change is threatening to those who are vested in the status quo. But those voices are not winning. They are being drowned out by the vast majority of Americans who consider dogs and cats and other companion animals cherished members of their families and want laws that reflect those values.

That is why most Washoe County residents are incredibly proud of what your shelters have achieved. Your shelters are a beacon of hope not only to the animals and animal lovers of your community, who cut across all political beliefs and economic sectors, but throughout the nation. Washoe County is proving that No Kill is a humane, sustainable, cost-effective model that works hand in hand with public health and safety, while fulfilling a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. And that is in keeping with American values. Please do not allow a few extremists who do not represent the views of most Washoe County residents to undermine the community’s accomplishments.

If I can assist in any way or answer any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Very truly yours,

Nathan J. Winograd
No Kill Advocacy Center

For a PDF copy of the letter, click here.