Interview with Nebraska Humane Society

Founded in 1875, The Nebraska Humane Society was originally established for the protection of both animals and children. In the mid 1940’s, state agencies began to embrace child welfare issues, leaving the Nebraska Humane Society as the sole organization within the Omaha area designated for the protection of animals. The Nebraska Humane Society is the fifth oldest humane society in the United States and today is also one of the largest.

Its mission is to protect, save, and enrich the lives of animals in the Omaha area. To that end, it offers many programs such as training classes and behavior modification programs, a low-cost spay/neuter center, humane education programs, a free behavior help line, a pet food pantry for residents in economic distress, Project Pet Safe for companion pets of victims of domestic abuse, and Animeals, a program to deliver pet food to elderly pet owners who no longer have the freedom or ability to leave their homes. Nebraska Humane Society also advocates for animal welfare in the state, having lobbied for the end of puppy mills and dog fighting and the enforcement of responsible pet ownership guidelines and dangerous dog ordinances. 

A huge thanks to Pam Wiese, head of Public Relations and Marketing at the Nebraska Humane Society for taking time for an interview. This interview is part of LAA Pet Talk’s Animal Welfare Takes A Village series. Stay tuned for future interviews with other Nebraska Humane Society staff.

ALLISON: What are the most common reasons an animal is relinquished to the Nebraska Humane Society?

PAM: We see animals come into NHS for all different reasons. Probably the most common is “time and responsibility”. People’s lives change and they feel they no longer have the time that it takes to appropriately care for an animal or they might be moving to a place that doesn’t allow their pets. Others cite financial issues: Someone loses a job or sometimes a pet develops a medical issue that the person can’t or doesn’t want to afford. Other times it’s a medical issue for the person: allergies or possibly something debilitating that won’t allow them to care for a pet.

ALLISON: Why did Nebraska Humane Society decide to release its shelter statistics?

PAM: NHS releases statistics because we are a non-profit organization and as such, we need to be transparent with our donors about how we are spending their dollars.

ALLISON: Why did the foster care program get started and what is its success rate?

PAM: The foster care program has been at NHS for many years but about 15 years ago we really formalized it. Last year, we had 344 foster homes care for 1989 animals. Most of them were kittens during the warmer months–getting them up to weight and weaned so they could go through the adoption program. However, we also foster animals who may need longer term treatments like heartworm, or surgical recovery. Animals grow and heal better when they are not in a shelter environment, but are in a homier setting. Babies (and adults) get more socialized with more intimate caregiving and one-on-one attention. Plus, getting animals who need a little time before adoption out of the shelter also frees up space for those who ARE ready for adoption…so it’s a win-win situation.

ALLISON: What kind of educational support is provided to fosters/adopters? What are common questions do you get from fosters/adopters?

PAM: We offer training in the shelter, plus handouts to our foster families. Our coordinators also do a site visit before any placement is made to talk with the families, see the environment, and answer any questions families have before starting out. Our coordinators also give out their cell phone numbers for questions and they confer with our vets regularly. Foster families usually ask about the time commitment and if they can foster even if they work most of the day. They also ask about their own pets and if they can foster if they have other animals.

ALLISON: How is the environment enriched for cats that are brought to the Nebraska Humane Society? Do you provide training for cats? Why or why not?

PAM: Cats at NHS get enrichment every day. Whether it’s a laser light in the cattery, or toys in our free roaming areas, we try to give them something to do. But they don’t get as much enrichment as dogs do, simply because we don’t have an easy way to get them outdoors like the dog walkers do. However, we do have people who come in and brush the cats, get them out of their kennels to stretch their legs, and then the planned enrichment that the staff provides.

We don’t provide much training for cats. Most cats don’t like to travel and are scared in the shelter. Even if people came for classes , the cats would likely not respond. We also don’t have enough staff to train the cats here.

ALLISON: What kind of behavior questions do you get about cats?

PAM: Most of the cat questions center around litterbox issues, or cats scratching and destroying things in the home. So our behavior helpline (which is free) offers up tips for getting a cat back on track. Our behaviorists usually advise to rule out anything medical, and then work to get a picture of the environment so they can offer advice on how to change it to help the cat.

ALLISON: How do you provide support for community cats?

PAM: Omaha has a “Cat colony caretaker permit” which allows responsible people to feed free roaming cats, with the goal of reducing their colonies through natural attrition. The caretakers offer food and shelter and then trap, neuter, and release the cats (TNR) back into the colony. The colony can’t reproduce so when the cats die, they don’t have offspring continuing the group. The cats in that program are brought to the NHS SNC (Spay and neuter center) for free sterilization. We also work with Feline Friends and others to trap, neuter and release so that we try to control population but still let those cats live their lives. And our SNC is low cost, so anyone who has a cat and wants to sterilize it can do so at a greatly reduced price.

ALLISON: Tell me about the Star Equine Rehabilitation Facility.

PAM: The Star Equine Rehabilitation facility is located on owned land that the owner allows us to use free of charge. Next door is an indoor arena that we are also allowed to use free of charge, so our trainer can work with undersocialized horses to get them comfortable with handling. Most of the horses we get are abused or neglected, so we often need lots of good food and time to get the horses healthy. Then they are worked with so that they can withstand basic handling. (you can put a halter on them, they will stand for the farrier and let their feet be lifted, they will load into a trailer ect.) We try to get most under saddle too because horses that can be handled and ridden are much more attractive to adopters than a horse that can’t be approached or ridden.

ALLISON: What are the best ways people can help the homeless pet population?

PAM: One of the best ways to help homeless animals is to be a responsible pet owner. License vaccinate and care for your pet appropriately. Spay and neuter your cats and dogs. If you want a pet, adopt from your local shelter or rescue groups. And help those groups continue their good work by donating your time, talent, or funding to them!


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