NEVADA FOCUS: Las Vegas could become first city to end euthanasia

LAS VEGAS - In another city, the tabby cat in cage No. 10 would likely be on death row. She's been at the city shelter for days and no one has come to adopt her.

But in Las Vegas, the fate of homeless pets is better than in most cities. The city is trying to become the first in the nation to stop killing healthy, abandoned pets.

''I know we're going to change history - change forever how our city deals with homeless pets,'' said Mary Herro, president of the Animal Foundation, the city-run shelter.

Since 1988, the euthanasia rate has dropped from 55 percent to 33 percent at the shelter, Herro said. Adoptions have increased from 1,500 a year to more than 9,000 annually and more than 122,000 animals have been spayed and neutered.

Herro believes that killing adoptable pets - those who don't have severe health or behavioral problems - is a realistic goal. She predicts within 10 years people will look back and find it unfathomable that adoptable pets were ever killed.

''We can end euthanasia. People are listening and saying it is possible,'' she said.

Many private shelters across the country have a no-kill policy, but the Animal Foundation would be the first municipally run shelter in the United States to stop killing animals. As the city shelter, the Animal Foundation must accept any animal.

''It should be the goal of every humane society and animal control facility in the country,'' said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. ''I think it's within the power of the people of the community to make changes to have that hope realized.''

Herro, 51, wanders through the shelter, stopping to talk to a Persian cat who has been at the shelter for 10 days. She can't figure out why no one has taken the cat. She reaches her hand in the cage and the cat returns the kindness with persistent purring.

In the hallway, owners line up against a wall, waiting for their pets to come out of surgery. The shelter operates a busy low-cost spay and neuter clinic, which has helped the city toward its no-kill goal by controlling the animal population. Procedures are $10 to $40 depending on the size of the animal. Low-cost vaccinations are also available from $22 to $28.

This day, one veterinarian performed 57 operations in assembly-line fashion, about average for the shelter. Every homeless pet is spayed or neutered, then placed in a cage to await adoption.

Besides the spay and neuter clinic, the shelter also hosts adopt-a-thons with local businesses and hotels and is open for adoptions seven days a week.

Herro also has enlisted ''foster families'' to take in mother cats and dogs and their babies. After the animals are weaned from their mother, the families return them to the shelter for adoption.

A key element in reaching the zero euthanasia goal is building a 32,000-square-foot city shelter. The current shelter is 7,000 square feet and so overcrowded that trailers have been hauled on to the site to house animals.

More space means the shelter can keep animals longer. Here each pet is kept 30 days; most shelters only keep animals a few days.

But even with the longer stay, healthy animals are euthanized because there is simply not enough room to keep them, Herro said. Last year, 1,594 adoptable pets had to be killed because there was no one to take them and nowhere to keep them.

Construction will begin in May on the new shelter, which will feature an area to house sick pets until they recover, more cages, separate runs for each dog and even a ''cat room'' where felines will be able to play together.

The foundation is $300,000 short of the $3.4 million needed to build the shelter across the street. Herro is hoping the community responds.

''I believe in people,'' she said. ''I believe that people can solve this problem.''

In outside cages, six dogs on death row greet shelter worker Cyd Dutcher, 32, with a bark or by pawing at their cage. She is making the rounds of her ''trailer babies.''

''Hi, sweetie. Hi, there,'' she greets an Australian Shepherd mix.

''You have your days when you just want to go home and cry because you can't do anything for them,'' she said, glancing at the row of dogs.

But with a new shelter, spaying, neutering and more adoptions, that could be changing.

Inside a small room, the McCoy family is signing the adoption papers for ''Sushi'' and ''Pumpkin,'' two adult cats they are adopting to join their other two adopted cats at home.

''It's the right thing to do,'' Lori McCoy said, her new pets meowing as she talks. --- On the Net:


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