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Enduring Relationships

The Nebraska Humane Society

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With increased awareness of the benefits and responsibilities that come with animal ownership, greater visibility of animals in the media and stricter law enforcement, the Nebraska Humane Society is enjoying continued growth and support. As with nearly every other institution, it has felt the effects of a worrisome economy in recent years but it has made adjustments and is weathering the storm.



In addition to making some cuts in 2008, “we also spent a lot of time looking at special projects, making sure they went toward the goal of saving lives,” said Judy Varner, executive director and CEO. She praised the hard work and dedication of her staff, noting that during a period when they did not receive wage increases, 100 percent contributed to and/or raised money for fund raising projects last year.

“They believe so deeply in our mission,” Varner said. “They see first hand where the money is spent and know it is important. They are passionate about the plight of homeless animals. They see the reality every day. It’s a great group.
They’re always coming up with ways to do things better. ”

Varner is excited about recent construction, which has tripled the space for dog classes and allowed them to add more classes, which is important. “We know if people interact with and train their dogs, they are less likely to give them up,” she said. 
The NHS has expanded its dog day care, established a play group for dogs and moved the animal control offices to another building.

The summer educational program, Camp Kindness, has added to the organization’s exposure and outreach.
It allows young people from six to thirteen to come in five days a week for a half day and learn about caring for dogs, cats and other animals. The classes were filled throughout the two-month period.

The NHS’s volunteer core continues to grow. It attracts 125 people at each of its quarterly training sessions. “It’s not easy,” Varner said. “Volunteers are held to high standards.” She attributes the enthusiastic response to the fact the people love animals, noting that more than 300 dog walkers come in early and stay late.

Among the NHS’s new programs is one started last year for adopting pit bulls and pit bull mixes. “It’s going great,” Varner said. The organization has also had success with a program for adopting animals with mild to moderate health problems.

Overall adoption is increasing and the numbers of animals coming in to be adopted has decreased, Varner said. She is encouraged and gives some credit to the fact that people are seeing more dogs on television as well as more programs dealing with pet care. But the economy has taken its toll. More people can no longer take care of their animals. Most resist giving them up until they are nearly homeless.

“We track why people give animals to us,” she said. “We feel we need to stop that. There is a tremendous need to spay and neuter as well as microchip animals, especially cats.” Many people don’t because supposedly their cat never goes outside.

“We have a cattery full of cats that never go outside.”

-Judy Varner

The Dining with Dogs event held last summer, by the Friends Forever group, was a huge success, drawing 250 people and 200 dogs. The dogs created no problems throughout the social hour and dinner. An army of volunteers responded when people held up a paddle, noting a pet’s need to be taken outside.  The biggest fund-raiser, Black Tie and Tails, was just held on April 17, 2010.

Other ongoing projects include working with the Omaha Correction Center. Staff members come and pick up dogs to work with the prisoners. About 12 dogs participate and, while they are typically shy, they come back changed. “It also enriches the lives of the prisoners,” Varner said. “They love this.”

On the negative side, there are still too many feral cats. The tragedy, according to Varner, is that the cats may not be wild initially but because they continue to reproduce, they begin running loose in packs. “Society sees cats as second class citizens,” she said. “They are very misunderstood. They can be extremely attached.”

Another challenge has been recent publicity about pit bulls. They are highly intelligent, very muscular dogs but with their high energy level, confinement can be a challenge and because they are very intelligent, they require a lot of attention and training. Varner said they are extremely dedicated and loyal to their owners. In the past they were called the “Great American Nanny.”

The problem is drug dealers and gang members often choose pit bulls, which has caused the breed to go downhill. “You have people trying to breed “bigger and badder” dogs,” she said. “That has done great damage to the breed.” The NHS has a more extensive behavior evaluation in placing pit bulls. “If we have any doubts, we don’t place them in the adoption kennels ,” she said.

Nearly all breeds of dogs can be dangerous if handled or trained wrong but, she said, the media seldom covers incidents of bites by attacks. She said they don’t bite to kill and often the attacks come from dogs that have not been housed correctly or trained and socialized. “Any dog bite is horrible and we want to do all we can to prevent them,” she said. The NHS has a program offering a canine good citizen test to allow those pit bulls who pass to not be muzzled when off their owners property. Most pit bulls flunk because they are too friendly.

“We don’t defend any breed but we say all dogs have to be treated with an understanding of the breed,” Varner said. “This is the time of year when dogs run loose. It is the owner’s responsibility to keep them under control. There are two ends to every leash.”

Summing up positive and negative trends, Varner said she is seeing fewer people getting dogs simply due to that breed’s exposure in a movie. There have also been stricter laws passed (with help from the NHS) to eliminate or control puppy mills and Omaha has gotten more active holding owners responsible.

On the negative side, the problem with an increasing number of cats running loose needs to be addressed.

Varner said the NHS has benefited from its TV segments, which enlighten people about caring for animals.
“We always need to address responsible ownership,” she said “We’ve made progress but we have a long way to go.”

-end- metroMAGAZINE

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