Las Vegas veterinarian has spent almost 30 years trying to control pet population

Dr. David Henderson doesn’t mind if he’s considered the driving force for pushing for spay and neuter legislation in Nevada.

He also knows he’s not best friends with the bulk of the Las Vegas Valley breeding community.

“I can take credit for that, but actually, a lot of people would like to shoot me for that,” he said.

At 62, Henderson has been around long enough to accept everyone won’t like him. He’s also been around long enough to be considered one of the more respected people in veterinary medicine.

Henderson has run Sunrise Veterinary Clinic, 417 N. Eastern Ave., since 1983. Off U.S. Highway 95 next to the long-standing Winchell’s Donut House is the office where Henderson has performed between 100,000 to 150,000 animal surgeries for 33 years. He’s also the medical director for Heaven Can Wait, 546 N. Eastern Ave., and does nearly every veterinary operation for the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society and the Community Cat Coalition of Clark County (C5).

“Most of the pro bono work I do is for those groups,” Henderson said. “This side of town, we don’t have all the bells and whistles a lot of places do have, mostly because people can’t afford it. This is what makes this particular clinic unique.”

Henderson acknowledges the part of town he works in has its financial disadvantages, so he’s had to accommodate for those who can’t afford the high costs of animal surgeries. It’s one of the qualities that Heaven Can Wait President Harold Vosko said is Henderson’s most admirable trait.

“The thing is, he’s not rich,” Vosko said. “What’s even more unbelievable is he doesn’t have the fancy tools, but he’s the best vet in town. He takes care of our animals. We trust him the most.”

While he loves taking care of animals, the practice is only a minute aspect of what Henderson does. That takes a backseat for what’s been his main objective since the late ‘80s: controlling the pet population.

In February 2007, Lied Animal Shelter (also known now as The Animal Foundation, 655 N. Mojave Road) had a mass euthanasia of 1,000 dogs and cats due to an outbreak of disease that couldn’t be controlled. Henderson said while the shelter had good intentions of wanting these pets to get adopted, they “were doing a horrible job.” In 2008, 55,451 pets were impounded, according to the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society. Only 12,438 of those were adopted, and 30,921 were euthanized.

Since that spike, the euthanasia numbers have been cut by almost 80 percent, according to Henderson.

“This year, we’re on track to only put down somewhere around 7,000,” Henderson said. “I don’t think there’s a city in this whole country that’s reduced its euthanasia rate by that much.”

Within the next three years, Henderson anticipates that the Las Vegas area will be a “no-kill” zone. His vision in doing such has been offering as many free services, and then some, to convince people to get their pets fixed.

Every month, Henderson and his family staff hold a free feral cat clinic at Heaven Can Wait. Anywhere between 50 to 100 volunteers show up, including pre-vet students at UNLV, along with a number of licensed veterinarians and vet techs.

According to Henderson, cats ovulate at the same capacity as rabbits, which makes it easier for female cats to get pregnant, thus increasing the feral cat and pet population. There will even be situations where surgeries have to be performed while the female cat is pregnant.

Henderson said 266 cats had surgery Sept. 11. The next feral cat day is Oct. 16.

“For years, no one did anything about the feral cat population,” Henderson said. “Cat euthanasias were 2-to-1 compared to dogs at the height of that period.”

Henderson also said he’s gone out of his way to ensure pets get their proper fixing. He holds free vaccine clinics a few times a year at a mobile home park or community center around town.

Despite going door-to-door to advertise and a free spay-and-neuter voucher available at Heaven Can Wait, Henderson will see only a 30 to 35 percent show-up rate.

To get more people to come, he pulls out the big guns.

“We give them a $20 gift card for Wal-Mart,” he said.

Henderson said the biggest problem with the animal population goes into what interests the public, rather than addressing the real issue. According to him, 90 percent of money that goes into animal welfare doesn’t go into spay and neuter but rather for pet adoptions because it’s what people want to see.

“Everybody likes what sells,” he said. “There’s no warm and fuzzy about (spay and neuter).”

Given Henderson’s track record, there’s no denying he cares more about the animals than he does himself. He’s been associated with Heaven Can Wait since 2002, but the partnership began when Vosko was trying to find a building for spay and neuter procedures. Henderson opened up his clinic.

“I’m 64 years old and have had a good life. Probably the greatest man I’ve ever met,” Vosko said. “He has no agenda except to help the animals. Never going to get rich doing what he does. He’s there for the right reasons.”

Vosko has gone as far as to say Henderson is the “Michael Jordan of spay and neuter” and has set the standard for veterinary practices. He also spends spring semesters teaching critical care and emergency medicine at the College of Southern Nevada’s Charleston campus for the veterinary technology program and is an examiner for the Clinical Proficiency Exam at the Western Veterinary Conference Center, 2425 E. Oquendo Road.

He finds ways to keep himself busy out of the office, but Henderson thinks of retirement every once in a while. He hopes that time doesn’t come soon, but when he does decide on it, he’ll have a good reason.

“We’re old and tired,” he said. “And we’ve got the right.”

To reach View copy editor Danny Webster, email dwebster@viewnews.com or call 702-477-3834. Find him on Twitter: @DannyWebster21.

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