$200 million fund to save dogs and cats
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1998:
CONCORD, Calif.––Richard Avanzino, president
of the San Francisco SPCA since 1976, has 200 million reasons
why no-kill animal control should catch on across the U.S.
They’re the same 200 million reasons why Avanzino
is leaving the SF/SPCA to head the Duffield Family
Foundation, effective January 1, 1999.
“Dave and Cheryl Duffield of the Duffield Family
Foundation have pledged to put in the bank $200 million for a
no-kill nation,” Avanzino told the fourth annual No Kill
Conference on September 11.
The funding is to underwrite a program which
Avanzino is to head, effective January 1, 1999, whose mission,
he continued, “is to revolutionize the status and wellbeing
for companion animals.”
Current PETsMART Charities executive director
Ed Sayres was on September 15 elected to succeed
Avanzino at the SF/SPCA.
Sayres, a practicing Buddhist and published
poet, is a second-generation humane worker who formerly
headed the St. Hubert’s Giralda shelter in New Jersey. Sayres
later led the animal protection division of the American
Humane Association––where he ran into heavy flak from the
animal care and control establishment for hosting the 1996 No
The money says what Avanzino wants to do is
possible. For starters, Avanzino will have the capability of
granting as much money each year as all other national foundations
supporting animal population control and adoption programs
combined. In effect, the Duffield Family Foundation is
doubling the funding available to start special programs.
And it isn’t just a lot of money: it’s the right
amount, at least on paper, to complete the push that has cut
U.S. dog and cat population control killing by as much as 80%
in 30 years, and by two-thirds during the past 15 years.
$200 million comes to about $41.25 for each of the
estimated 4.85 million animals who were killed in U.S. shelters
last year, beyond the $70 apiece already spent to capture, hold,
and dispose of their remains
The Duffield money could have neutered and vaccinated
Not all of the dogs and cats entering shelters could
have been saved. Some were too sick or too badly injured.
Some were dangerous. Some had to be decapitated for rabies
testing. But subtracting an estimated 20% of shelter intake
from the total of animals who might be saved raises the amount
of funding potentially available to save the rest to the vicinity
of $50 extra per animal.
And that’s not yet counting the money already spent
on existing neutering and adoption programs. The total now
available to save each animal may actually be as high as
$200––close the average amount spent per animal, on average,
by organizations whose whole focus is promoting adoption.
“The problem now, as we see it,” Avanzino told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, “will be not getting the resources to
guarantee every animal a home, but rather achieving an effective
distribution of resources, so that saving animals happens.”
Avanzino outlined a three-part anti-pet overpopulation
strategy that he wants to see put into effect in every community.
One part, he said, will be reducing dog and cat births.
Another will be keeping animals who already have homes in
their homes. This aspect, Avanzino argues, is badly neglected
by most humane societies, in part because they pursue coercive
policies directed against pet owners, such as high surrender
fees which encourage pet dumping, instead of proactively
addressing obstacles to keeping pets––of which the most ubiquitous
are landlords who don’t allow pets.
“But the first step,” Avanzino told the No Kill
Conference, “is to insure that every animal gets a home.”
Later, to ANIMAL PEOPLE, Avanzino emphasized
his belief that as important as neutering animals may be,
“We can’t just rely on prevention of births to save animal
lives,” because “the problem isn’t just too many animals for
the available homes. It’s also what becomes of the animals
who for whatever reason are brought into shelters. There are
many legitimate reasons why people surrender animals, even
though they don’t want to. Life puts them between a rock and a
hard place,” as a result of illness, incapacity, loss of employment,
or other difficult and unforseen circumstances, “and we
have to be able to provide for these animals,” Avanzino stresses,
“in a compassionate manner, which reflects a societal consensus
that their lives have value.
“We should not be blaming people who have to give
up their pets,” Avanzino continued. “First, we should be helping
them in whatever way we can to keep their pets, whether
by fostering or counseling or training or negotiating with land-
lords. Second, when pets do have to be surrendered to a shelter,
we should be trying to find them another good home.”
Avanzino’s fous on adoption alarmed dog rescuer
Laura Hansen, of El Cerrito, California.
Adopted pets, Hansen pointed out in an open letter to
Contra Costa Times animal columnist Gary Bogue, may “live
13 to 20 years,” though the average lifespans of dogs and cats
are half as long.
“During that time,” Hansen continued, “most families
won’t be taking another needy animal. That suggests that
even if we found a million new homes in one year for a million
animals who would otherwise have been put down, we’d need
another million homes the next year, and the year after that.
I’m not sure so many homes are available.”
But recent American Animal Hospital Association
data indicates that 52.9 million dogs are already in 31.2 million
homes, and 59.1 million cats are in 27 million homes. If each
pet lives 10 years, on average, and the number of homes grows
at the same rate that homes are lost through deaths and other
attrition, then replacement homes would come available each
year for more than twice as many dogs and slightly more cats
than enter shelters. Since the inventory of pet-owning homes is
growing, not just holding even, adoption could in theory
replace all population control killing right now––if the animals
and potential adoptors were better introduced.
The catch, indicated by AVMA, Massachusetts
SPCA, and National Pet Alliance studies, is that adoptions
from shelters and rescue groups account for less than 15% of all
dog acquisitions, and under 10% of cat acquisitions.
The energetic high-volume adoption programs of the
North Shore Animal League, San Francisco SPCA, and
PETsMART have long since demonstrated that shelters can
capture a much larger share of the market. But to do it, they
get out into the community with conveniently placed adoption
boutiques, which don’t stink of feces; do offer socialization
opportunities; use adoption forms that ask 20 well-chosen
questions instead of 100 that are intrusive and tedious; and follow
up adoptions not only by monitoring licensing and neutering
compliance, but also by offering behavioral counseling and
veterinary care, if necessary.
The SF/SPCA and Avanzino recently pushed highvolume
adoption technique another step forward by building
Maddie’s Adoption Center, a new wing financed by the
Duffield Family Foundation in honor of their late miniature
schnauser Maddie. The success of this project in fact inspired
the Duffields to recruit Avanzino to head their nationwide project,
and to turn him loose with the $200 million.
The home-like architecture of Maddie’s Adoption
Center, including TV sets and rugs on the floor in the singledog
showrooms, and the on-site cappuchino bar have thus far
attracted the most attention from media, visitors who have
made the center a tourist attraction, and envious directors of
other shelters, who point toward the $1 million price and suggest
they could do as much or more, if given equal opportunity.
But there isn’t much about Maddie’s that couldn’t be
emulated for much less money in a less expensive city than San
Francisco. The materials include painted concrete floors and
insulated glass. The big physical innovations include floorlevel
ventilation and sniffing holes in the windows between the
dog areas and the corridors. The same things could be done in
almost any storefront.
The really unique aspects of Maddie’s involve use of
the space to enhance the adoptability of the animals. No dog or
cat goes cage-crazy; all have abundant light, air, socialization
opportunities, and hands-on care, mostly provided by the
2,000 SF/SPCA volunteers, under professional supervision.
Each dog, for instance, gets an hour a day of obedience training,
“The longer we have a dog,” explains SF/SPCA outreach
and education director Lynn Spivak, “the more adoptable
that animal becomes.”
Maddie’s has already halved the waiting time before
adoption for cats. That in effect doubles the capacity of the
SF/SPCA shelter to handle cats.
“We expect to see shelters identical to Maddie’s
springing up across the U.S.,” AVanzino told Glen Martin of
the San Francisco Chronicle, “shelters that will guarantee a
loving home for every companion animal. In too many jurisdictions,
animals are sacrificed because people think there
aren’t any options. Now there will be.”
Another way to look at the Duffield $200 million is
that it could build a $1 million Maddie’s Adoption Center in
each of the 50 communities which together account for more
than 90% of U.S. dog and cat population control killing, and
still have $150 million left for other projects.
Improved adoption methods may reduce shelter
killing, but––as Avanzino readily agrees––neutering more animals,
especially feral cats and both pet cats and dogs in poverty
areas, is the longterm solution to cutting pet overpopulation.
But as Avanzino discovered in San Francisco, it it
often easier to place a neutered animal in a home than to persuade
the owner of an intact animal to arrange for neutering..
Accordingly, against much criticism from the humane establishment,
Avanzino introduced off-site adoption promotion in
1980. Partly, the idea was just to adopt out more animals.
Also, though, it was to start filling pet homes left vacant by
attrition with animals who would not reproduce.
Now much-emulated, the concept of doing off-site
adoption is no longer even controversial. Debate pertaining to
off-site adoptions these days tends to center on the details of
where, how, by whom and to whom.
Other SF/SPCA innovations under Avanzino’s leadership
included starting a hearing dog program to help save
intelligent mixed-breed dogs, 1978; starting an in-shelter
grooming college to help make all animals more easily adoptable,
1979; starting a much-copied program to help senior citizens
keep their pets, 1979; adding behavioral counseling and
training services, 1983; guaranteeing repairs of pet-caused
damage to rental properties, via contracts with landlords,
1991; fixing feral cats for free, 1993; starting a fund-generating
Doggie Daycare program, 1994; and actually paying a
bounty to people who bring in feral cats for fixing, 1995.
“Almost every successful program the SF/SPCA pioneered
was ridiculed at first,” Avanzino recalled. “We have
proven, however, that innovation breeds success. Programs
like ours are now becoming the norm across the country.”
The Avanzino/Duffield announcement too was followed
by nay-saying from conventional shelters around the San
Francisco Bay area, including small private humane societies
burdened by underfunded animal control contracts.
Avanzino’s most controversial innovation was reexamining
the original SF/SPCA mission statement, in 1984,
and deciding that subsidizing animal control at the expense of
having to do high-volume killing wasn’t part of it.
Returning the animal control contract to the city,
Avanzino rededicated the SF/SPCA to pet overpopulation prevention,
instead of killing the surplus. The city built the
Department of Animal Care and Control, kitty-corner across
the street from the SF/SPCA, to continue tax-funded animal
control work as usual.
The SF/SPCA, no longer the unpopular dogcatchers,
solicited donations to expand low-cost neutering––and
increased revenues ninefold over the next 10 years. By then,
the energetic neutering program had fixed more than 100,000
animals, so reducing the number of animals handled by animal
control that Avanzino was able to introduce the Adoption Pact,
effective since April 1, 1994.
Under the Adoption Pact, the SF/SPCA accepts any
and all healthy or recoverable animals whom the Department of
Animal Care and Control has been unable to place or return to
an owner. Animal control killing in San Francisco is now
restricted to irrecoverable injury and illness cases, and dangerous
dogs, usually biters who are killed for rabies testing.
Altogether, San Francisco shelters killed 2,700 cats
and 1,490 dogs in 1997––5.8 animals per 1,000 human residents,
a third of the California statewide average, 33% fewer
animals than were killed during the year before the Adoption
Pact came into effect.
“Last fiscal year alone,” Avanzino told A N I M A L
PEOPLE, “2,301 dogs and cats were transferred to us from the
city shelter. This was in addition to the 2,473 animals who
were surrendered directly to us by their caregivers. The vast
majority were not easy-to-place cute-and-cuddlies. Over twothirds
had significant impediments to adoption: they were old,
blind, deaf, traumatized, unweaned, sick and injured.”
The SF/SPCA did nonetheless manage to treat, train,
and place them.
The SF/SPCA has also continued to increase the
numbers of animals it neuters, fixing 8,734 in the fiscal year
ending on June 30, 1998—847 more than in the 1997 fiscal
year, and more, indeed, than any other facility in California.
Noting a recent report that a Texas couple is donating
$2.3 million to Texas A&M University to fund an attempt to
clone their dog Missy, a collie/German shepherd cross, Gary
Bogue asked, “Can designer dogs and cats be far behind?
Building a no-kill nation is not going to be easy,” he observed,
“even with a $200 million assist.”
But as proponents of pet-cloning responded, the
high-tech, cloning-based approach to breeding could––hypothetically––drive
old-fashioned puppy millers right out of business,
by enabling volume replication of top-quality purebred
dogs and cats at affordable prices. Bio-engineered pets could
be made free of genetically transmitted diseases and disabilities,
and could be sterile by design, keeping customers from competing
in the marketplace against whoever lands the patents on
the genetic technology.
For now, that’s still science fiction. The Texas
A&M project is the first known effort to clone pets, although
many efforts are underway to clone animals for laboratory and
agricultural use, including to replicate traits such as tractability
which are generally desired in pets.
But high-tech investors do seem to favor Avanzino
and the Duffields, Bogue observed. A week after the Duffield
commitment of the $200 million, the New York stock market
fell 512 points. Dell Computer, Cisco Systems, and Microsoft
shares plummeted––but PeopleSoft, the Duffield firm, worth
an estimated $7.75 billion, posted a modest gain.
“Regardless of whether you think this is going to
work or not,” Bogue wrote, as one of Avanzino’s closest
observers over the years, “a bright light has just been turned on
in a place where there has never been a light before. With the
loud click of that $200 million switch, I think there is definitely
reason for us to hope. And hope is a great motivator by itself.
Finding a solution other than killing to this nation’s surplus pet
crisis is a major challenge. I suspect it will be easier to get a
human to Mars. But the initial $200 million will act as seed
money and soon grow to many more millions,” Bogue anticipated.
“It won’t take long for well-heeled corporations and
other foundations to give more funds to help create a no-kill
nation. It will be a very popular cause.”
Bogue himself soon enlisted. On October 3, at
Avanzino’s request, Bogue was to chair one of the first brainstorming
sessions about how to spend the Duffield money.
Invited were to be all of the most active companion animal
organizations in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
The new Duffield money will be allocated according
to regional priorities, radiating geographically from the future
Duffield Family Foundation headquarters in Walnut Creek,
east of San Francisco Bay and the Berkeley hills.
“We’re going to start on the west coast, and it’s
going to move, move, move until everybody is part of the
action,” Avanzino promised. “Starting in Alameda and Contra
Costa County, we are going to fund collaborators. We want to
invest in programs with measureable results,” Avanzino
emphasized. These will be big grants,” intended to enable
communities to achieve quick turnarounds. “Our only requirement
is quantifiable results which show that year after year the
killing is ending.”
Asked by ANIMAL PEOPLE to comment on a
hypothetical project costing $10,000 to serve a city of 100,000,
generous by most foundation standards, Avanzino said he
didn’t anticipate making any grants so small.
A hint at what the Duffields have in mind comes
from the scale and direction of their previous grants to animal
protection: more than $1 million to the SF/SPCA, $800,000
to Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, and $100,000
to Community Concern for Cats.