Henderson shelter has fraction of staff needed to care for animals

The City of Henderson, which bills itself as a premier city, employs two kennel workers to care for as many as 160 animals a day at its aging shelter, and just one kennel attendant on Sunday when the shelter is closed, the Henderson Police Department said in response to questions submitted by the Current. The department oversees the shelter.

 (Photo: City of Henderson)

by DANA GENTRY, Nevada Current

Standards for shelter care supported by the Humane Society of the United States suggest it takes 15 minutes to provide basic care, such as feeding and cleaning, for each animal – a standard that would require the Henderson shelter to employ four kennel employees working eight hours a day, seven days a week.   

“I, along with my fellow Councilmembers, support our animal shelter and the vital work staff and volunteers perform each day to care for, and find homes, for the animals who reside there,” Mayor Michelle Romero said in a statement, noting she directed staff to invest “over $350,000 in upgrades within the facility” after volunteers complained about conditions at the shelter during a city council meeting last April. 

“Our shelter is understaffed, in complete disrepair and represents a safety hazard not only to our workers but to our animals,” volunteer Scott McIntyre told the council in April, adding volunteers provided the equivalent of ten full-time staff members in the last year – a savings to the city of $675,000, he said.   

About a dozen volunteers complained again to the council in November. 

“Since we last talked there were two full-time positions posted,” McIntyre told the council, adding “the city hasn’t been able to execute. It takes probably four or five months to get a full-time person on board.” 

McIntyre, who said he would no longer volunteer as a result of the city’s alleged neglect of the shelter and reliance on volunteers, asked the council to “pare down” the hiring process to “a reasonable time for a working person” who can’t wait months for a job.

“Staffing at the shelter is a concern,” Councilwoman Carrie Cox said via email, adding she’s worked with city management since taking office “to shine a light on the needs of our animal shelter.”

Animal Control officers have been brought in to assist kennel workers, according to Cox, and  are routinely called on to work overtime to fill the gap caused by the shortage of kennel workers, volunteers say. 

“The hiring list has been exhausted and reopened to continue to address staffing needs,” Cox says, adding she’s grateful to staff and volunteers for their efforts.    

The city’s other three councilmen did not respond to requests for individual comment.

Shelter volunteers say they expected to spend time exercising the animals, not cleaning their kennels, and contend the government shouldn’t rely on their largesse when animal welfare is at stake.  

“I heard you guys talking earlier about ‘Yeah, let’s open a park,’” volunteer Holly Fick told council members. “There is no park near the shelter where we can take these dogs.”

The shelters’ 60 to 70 dogs are housed in small outdoor kennels, and exposed to the elements year-round. 

Romero, in a statement to the Current, says improvements she instituted include “enhanced shaded areas” where dogs and potential adopters can visit, and “an enhanced cooling system…” 

“There were two tents added in the courtyard to provide shade to the public while visiting with dogs,” a police spokesperson confirmed via email.  However, police contend “no additional cooling system has been added.” 

A spokeswoman for Romero says the city spent $80,000 to augment cooling in the cattery, which is indoors and already air conditioned, but the city’s website, which details improvements completed or contemplated for the shelter, makes no mention of an augmented cooling system. 

The website refers to the “relocation of misting system,” a reference to a project initiated and completed by volunteers in an effort to provide dogs with some relief from the summer heat. The city notes while volunteers performed the work, the government paid for a new pump for the misting system. 

Romero says the city provided a new commercial washer and dryer for the shelter. But volunteers told council members in April the appliances had long been at the shelter but had not been installed.  

The city has hired a consultant to report on shelter conditions and potential upgrades. The report is expected to be available in February, a spokesperson said. 

“I want to reiterate my support and deepest gratitude to our animal shelter team. Their work continues to save lives, as evidenced by our remarkable no-kill statistics,” Romero said in a statement.

Shelter records indicate an increase the last two years in the number of dogs and cats euthanized, as well as those who died in their cages. 

Last year, 64 animals, about half of them kittens, died in their cages – up from 42 in 2021 and 51 in 2022. 

DANA GENTRY, Nevada Current

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.