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Animal Shelter Contract Sparks Debate About No-Kill Shelters

Last week, Clark County delayed a decision on which group would get its animal shelter contract.

Currently, the Animal Foundation is under contract with Clark County, and the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, to manage an open-admission animal shelter that handles legal holds of animals.

These legal holds are 72-hour periods where animals that are picked up are kept in custody as their owners, if applicable, are tracked down. However, if an animal's owner is not found, or it is not adopted, the Animal Foundation puts that animal down.

Andy Bischel, the development director for Animal Foundation, told KNPR’s State of Nevada the shelter has made a huge effort to bring down the number of animals that are euthanized. He said that over the last five years the numbers have dropped and they continue to drop.

“The numbers are going in the right direction," he said. "Is it happening fast enough? No. But we can become, call it what you want, a humane or a no-kill community in the next five to seven years."

A group called No Kill Las Vegas is fighting local governments to open up the bidding process for the shelter contract.

No Kill says it wants to make the local animal shelter more animal friendly by reducing the number of euthanizations that take place in Clark County.

Bryce Henderson of No Kill Las Vegas said despite The Animal Foundation's efforts, its kill rate is still too high. He said his group is ready to create a competing no-kill shelter -- if the county will work with them.

“When the community sees the programs that we’re doing that are not happening at the Animal Foundation, the Animal Foundation will be forced to implement them as well,” Henderson said.

But a "no-kill" shelter does not mean that no animal will ever be put down. There are reasons that an animal cannot be adopted. Henderson said a no-kill shelter aims for saving about 90 percent of its animals.

“It’s being done in communities all around the country. Las Vegas is just behind the times,” Henderson said.

The Animal Foundation said it euthanized nearly 20,000 cats and dogs in 2013 – which it says is a decrease of 20 percent from 2012.

Currently, the counties and cities contracted with The Animal Foundation pay for the first three days that an animal is in the shelter, but any other care after that, including adoption services, spay and neutering services or medical care, are paid for by the foundation’s nonprofit arm.

Bischel said the days after the legal hold is when shelters really struggle. The Animal Foundation spent more than $4 million last year to cover those expenses.

“We’re both trying to get to the same thing. We don’t want to euthanize any more animals than we have to,” Bischel said.

But Henderson questions the foundation’s motives and its policy for which animals are euthanized.

“They’re inactive. They’re comfortable cashing their paychecks and they’re never interested in going the extra mile to help the animals,” Henderson said, “To see The Animal Foundation kill an animal for a chipped tooth or an allergy is infuriating.”

The county’s contract amounts to $41 million over 10 years.

Copyright 2015 KNPR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.knpr.org/.

Andy Bischel, development director, the Animal Foundation; Bryce Henderson, founder, No Kill Las Vegas

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)