Maddie's Pet Project

Strengthening leadership saves lives

Over 180 attendees at Maddie’s Saving Nevada’s Pets Conference

by Kimberly Wade

Kimberly and Newton

“Leadership is not about being liked. It’s about being respected. Aim for respect over liking.”

This was a quote that resonated with many at the fourth, semi-annual Maddie’s® Saving Nevada’s Pets Conference. Originally said by Best Friends Animal Society co-founder Faith Maloney, this quote set the tone for the two-day conference, which stressed that strong, confident and bold leadership is vital in the field of animal welfare.

In the keynote address titled “Unleashing the Leader in You,” Bonney Brown laid out eight ideas that she has found valuable for animal welfare leaders in her years of consulting at shelters and rescue groups around the nation. Brown is president of Humane Network and co-executive director of Maddie’s® Pet Project in Nevada. Being an effective leader is about determining desired results, setting the bar high, inspiring urgency, thinking like a customer and engaging the community, to name a few of the ideas she emphasized.

Maddie’s® Saving Nevada’s Pets Conference was held October 17-18 at Peppermill Resort Casino Spa in Reno. With a goal of engaging animal welfare groups, providing inspiration and education, the conference brought together 188 people, including 12 speakers that came from across the country and representing more than 37 organizations, most of which are based in Nevada. Attendees included top leaders of Nevada’s largest humane societies and SPCAs, as well as directors and managers of animal services agencies, nonprofit spay/neuter clinics, rescues, and Trap-Neuter-Return groups.

Another big takeaway was the ostrich syndrome, which is defined in Urban Dictionary as “denying or refusing to acknowledge something that is blatantly obvious as if your head were in the sand like an ostrich.” Brown stressed that as leaders we must banish this to become better.

“Controversy can be generative. It can lead us into conversation that helps us better understand something or helps make a decision. Often, when you avoid controversy or heat altogether, you’re avoiding the questions that people care about.” This Priya Parker quote started discussion among attendees, as animal welfare is an emotional topic. Maddie’s® Pet Project in Nevada promotes transparency, openness and honesty in organizations for staff, volunteers and the public. Talking openly about difficult decisions can present challenges for groups used to keeping their actions private. Many attendees pledged openly to banish hiding from perceived bad news or situations in order to save more lives.

The purpose of the conference was to promote networking, share best practices and cultivate leadership among animal welfare organizations. National speakers addressed such topics as creative strategies for returning more lost pets to their owners, behavior modification for fearful and reactive dogs, caring for senior and special-needs pets, disease prevention for shelters and rescue groups, uniting staff and volunteers, and unleashing leadership potential.

“It was such a fantastic conference,” said Christy Stevens, executive director of Hearts Alive Village in Las Vegas. “Such a great day! Can’t wait to get back to Vegas and put all the great information to work!” Staci Sanchez, dog caregiver at Nevada Humane Society, said, “The excitement at the conference was amazing. All the shelters walked away with new ideas and couldn’t wait to implement them. So much passion in one place, so cool!”

Individuals from several groups met for the first time and began sharing ideas and ways to work together to elevate the status of dogs and cats across the state, reflecting that it’s less about competition and more about saving lives. Amy Lee of Nevada SPCA, Christi Dineff of The Animal Foundation, Laura Van Antwerp of SPCA of Northern Nevada and Amanda Williamson of Nevada Humane Society sat down as a group, along with Kimberly Wade of Maddie’s® Pet Project in Nevada, to collaborate on innovative marketing and media for the animals. Coming from the four biggest agencies in the state, the team vowed to talk often and freely about issues encountered with getting the right ideas out to the public as well as successes. Their goal is to save more lives as a whole and work together instead of against one another.

Kimberly Wade is the campaign manager for Maddie’s Pet Project in Nevada, a campaign to elevate the status of dogs and cats in Nevada. She lives with her husband and their cats, who have an Instagram account at maisey.newton.saia to promote foster and adoption programs. Reach Kimberly at

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