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Reno-Tahoe Shelters Battle Surge In Unwanted Pets

The humane societies in Reno and Truckee have some of the highest adoption rates in the country, but recently they’ve seen a spike in the number of people giving their pets up for adoption.  


Animal shelters can be pretty gloomy places, but with their large windows and open spaces the Truckee and Nevada Humane Societies look a little like spas. That atmosphere has helped to push their adoption rates through the roof. The Truckee shelter has a 99% adoption rate, and Nevada Humane, in Reno, has a 94% rate. Both shelters are far above the 58% national adoption rate. But recently, both are also facing a new issue: a steady stream of owner-surrendered dogs.

 “A lot of times, people are going on vacation over the summer – and maybe they’ve been trying to find another home for that animal, maybe they haven’t, but whatever the case their vacation hits and they haven’t found another home for the animal, so they wind up giving that animal up to us," says Kimberly Wade with the Nevada Humane Society. She says 4th of July is also an issue every summer.  Washoe County Animal Services took in 100 pets over the holiday this year."

“And they were mostly dogs that had gotten scared and run away from their people over the holiday weekend. Only a third of them were reclaimed, so what happens is if nobody reclaims a pet from Animal Services, they come to Nevada Humane and get placed up for adoption," Wade says.

Dan Olsen, who has worked as an animal services officer in Truckee since 1993, says that in the past, many people had to give up their pets due to financial hardships and foreclosures, but these days that’s rarely the case. 

“Really, I mean the majority of it is these are people who probably never should’ve had an animal in the first place, you know?" he says. "It was just too overwhelming for them. And no matter how many resources you throw at them or training or that sort of thing, they just can’t seem to get over that hump.” 

To address this issue, the Reno and Truckee shelters both require that owners call their support desks if they’re planning to surrender their pets. Support staff try to help owners keep their pets, offering free pet food, information on financial assistance for medical issues, lists of pet-friendly apartments, and training services.

Both have taken innovative approaches to ensuring successful adoptions as well. Their marketing campaigns avoid sad photos accompanied by Sarah McLachlan music in favor of cute pet pics and realistic lists of both the positive and challenging aspects of each dog so that people know what they’re getting into. 

 “You know, I had never adopted a dog before.” 

That’s Reno resident Allison Judge, who has purchased dogs from breeders her whole life. When her three purebred pets died within a year of each other, she started re-thinking things. 

“It seems to me that the purebred dogs we’ve had tend to be a little bit inbred maybe," Judge says. "They seem to get disease more and die earlier, and that’s just a tough thing to go through.” 

Last November, Judge went on the Nevada Humane Society website on a whim and found her terrier, Phinney. Once she met Phinney in person, there was no turning back.

“Whew, I just looked at those eyes and that was that," she says. "So that was how we got together.” 

Truckee Humane Society director Stephanie Nistler says being very open to volunteers of all types has been a boon to adoptions, too. That’s particularly true of kids, who most shelters turn away.

“We get kids in here as early as 8 years old – they have to be, of course, with a legal guardian, but it’s worth it, because those kids get in here and the animals get what they need and the kids figure it out," Nistler says. "So you know they’re the ones that are getting their parent to adopt the next pet or, if not, they’re at least making those decisions for themselves when they grow up.”

The Truckee Humane Society is in the process of rolling out new strategies to change the public’s perception of shelter dogs and further improve the adoption process – strategies it eventually plans to share with other shelters as well.