Sin no more: Las Vegas announces plan to take city to no-kill

I hear lots of stories from people around the country about the situation for animals in their community. More often than not, those stories are about how entrenched in the killing their community is. It’s generally the same scenario each time — backward thinking from shelter and city officials, and the incorrect placement of blame on the “irresponsible public” while animals die by the dozens every day. The next question invariably is this: “How do I get my city to change?”

At the Best Friends National Conference each year, we profile eight communities that have achieved or are very close to achieving no-kill. While each of those communities deployed different tactics to get to the goal, the springboard that kicked off the effort tends to be the same: A group of people, or sometimes even just one person, stood up and demanded change. (You can see how each of these communities created change by checking out our “playbooks.”)

Las Vegas, Nevada is the most recent major community to put a stake in the ground to end shelter killing. As recently as 2007, Sin City was committing plenty of sins against animals, and was about as far from no-kill as you could be. A nonprofit group had secured the municipal shelter contract with the best of intentions, but with an intake of tens of thousands of animals per year, the nonprofit’s new mission of treating the shelter like a rescue group proved to be fatal.

An attempt to implement a no-kill policy by abruptly ending shelter killing with little supporting programming caused extreme overcrowding in the shelter and multiple disease outbreaks among the more than 2,000 animals housed there. A national animal welfare organization was called in to perform a “shelter operations assessment” and recommended new operating protocols. The results were that 1,000 residents of the shelter were immediately killed.

It was clear that the group in charge, the Animal Foundation, needed to change their approach. However, from a lifesaving perspective, the newly recommended operating protocol meant a return to the old-school, traditional sheltering model, one that ensures no overcrowding, but also results in lots of killing.

Since 2007, incremental changes to increase lifesaving have been seen in Las Vegas, but in 2013, the community made it clear that the city should be working toward a no-kill goal quickly. Advocates started attending local government meetings and one local group of advocates even put in a bid to take over the Clark County sheltering contract. While that bid was ultimately unsuccessful, it proved to be a catalyst for change.

Fast-forward to this month, and I am pleased to report that the Animal Foundation has announced their plan to achieve no-kill by the year 2020. Best Friends is also thrilled to be working with the Animal Foundation and the larger Las Vegas community on a community cat pilot program. Our effort in Las Vegas will be similar to our work in other cities, where we’ve seen incredible reductions in shelter killing of cats.

The no-kill declaration in Las Vegas is an exciting step forward for a city that has needed change for a long time. There’s a long way to go before we can celebrate, but this new direction for Las Vegas will mean great things for the animals.

Together, we can Save Them All.