BOOKS: Making Tracks: The Marin Humane Society Celebrates 100 Years

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2007:

Making Tracks: The Marin Humane Society Celebrates 100 Years
Edited by Elaine Sichel & Pam Williams.
Photos & photo editing by Sumner W. Fowler
Marine Humane Society (171 Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato, CA
94949), 2007. 96 pages, hardcover. $24.95.

The most remarkable aspect of the Marin Humane Society
turning 100, as it will on December 14, 2007, is not that it has
endured as long as it has, but rather that it has endured so long
with only three generations of longterm leadership, through repeated
redefinitions of role, in a community changing almost beyond
Making Tracks: The Marin Humane Society Celebrates 100 Years
is a souvenir album, including only transient discussion of most of
the controversies that Marin Humane has addressed or been part
of–but a three-page timeline gives hints.
Founder Ethel H. Tompkins lived almost her entire life in the
San Anselmo home where she was born in 1876 and died in 1969. She
briefly attended a New York City boarding school, but was expelled
in 1894 for leaving class to ride a policeman’s horse. She had
obtained the policeman’s permission.

Tompkins opened the first Marin Humane Society shelter in a
San Rafael stable in 1912, and started a classroom humane education
program in 1913, becoming a charter participant in the annual
American Humane Association “Be Kind to Animals Week” two years later.
Farming, fishing, and operating San Quentin Prison,
founded in 1853, were then the Marin County economic mainstays.
Ferry boats connected the county with San Francisco to the south and
Richmond to the east, but frequent interruptions of service due to
inclement weather and adverse tides inhibited the growth of the
region into a bedroom suburb of San Francisco until after the Golden
Gate Bridge opened in 1937.
Anticipating the eventual transition of the community,
Tompkins opened a dog-and-cat shelter in 1929, and added full-time
humane officer Scott Tilden to the staff in 1935. With auxiliaries
already active in the four largest Marin County towns, the humane
society took over the county pound in 1949.
Tompkins retired in 1957, at age 88, but remained involved
in the organization until her death, shortly after the 1968 opening
of the oldest portion of the present Marin County Humane Society
Tompkins’ successor, Mel Morse, a World War II military dog
trainer, had helped American Humane Association president Richard C.
Craven to establish humane supervision of the Hollywood screen
industry in the 1940s. Later, as director of the Rocky Mountains
office of American Humane, Morse helped American Humane to relocate
to Denver, after 80 years in Albany, New York.
Making Tracks erroneously credits Morse with hiring the
“nation’s first full-time humane educator, Madelon Tormanen” in
1969. As some humane societies had employed full-time humane
educators for nearly 90 years, and Morse knew it, something appears
to have been garbled in repetition.
But Morse did introduce the use of a computer to track Marin
County dog licensing in 1958. This appears to have been the first
use of a computer in humane work, a distant yet direct ancestor of
the web-assisted rehoming networks now active worldwide.
Making Tracks notes that under Morse, Marin Humane in 1962
opposed wearing furs and the use of leghold traps. Morse and Marin
Humane thereby affirmed policies that had been unequivocal positions
of American Humane for decades, but from which American Humane had
Morse in 1964 won passage of the first California county
bylaw prohibiting the sale of pound animals for laboratory use.
Morse also led Marin Humane in actively opposing seal-clubbing and
bullfighting, and in encouraging appreciation of wild pumas and
coyotes, who were actively persecuted by local sheep ranchers.
These too reflected campaigns aggressively waged by American
Humane as far back as the mid-1930s, but dropped in the 1950s and
1960s, while the Humane Society of the U.S. took them up.
Founded in 1954 by former Ameri-can Humane staff member Fred
Myers, in rebellion against the loss of moral leadership that the
compromises represented, HSUS hired Morse away as Myers’ successor
in 1972–one year before Marin Humane realized Morse’s ambition of
opening one of the first low-cost sterilization clinics in California.
Morse served only briefly at HSUS before giving way to the
30-year regime of former ministers John Hoyt and Paul Irwin, who
were succeeded in 2004 by current HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.
Marin Humane meanwhile ran through four executive directors
in eight years before bringing aboard attorney Diane Allevato in
1980, who has announced her retirement effective in July 2007.
Making Tracks makes no mention of the long rivalry
between Allevato and fellow attorney Richard Avanzino, who headed
the San Francisco SPCA from 1976 through 1998, but a book could be
written comparing and contrasting their styles and tactics–which
have had similar results.
Both Avanzino and Allevato achieved plummeting shelter
killing tolls and soaring donations, while attracting some of the
largest volunteer corps in the humane field. (Marin Humane now has
more than 750 volunteers.) Their innovations were mostly similar.
How they implemented change was often markedly different.
Avanzino, a philosophical libertarian and former Republican
mayor of Atascadero, was noted while in San Francisco for issuing
high-profile frontal challenges to the status quo. Avanzino
abolished use of the decompression chamber to kill animals on his
first day as SF/SPCA president, introduced a five-year phase-out of
animal control work in 1984, made the SF/SPCA a no-kill shelter in
1989, and introduced the Adoption Pact in 1994. This made San
Francisco in effect the first U.S. no-kill city–although city animal
control director Carl Friedman dislikes the term because his agency
still kills sick, injured, and dangerous animals.
Since becoming executive director of Maddie’s Fund, Avanzino
has emphasized consensus-building and moved away from confrontation,
but he still prefers incentive-based approaches to getting animals
sterilized and otherwise encouraging better animal care.
What Avanzino sells, Allevato both sells and seeks to
mandate. The Marin Humane Society, for example, still does animal
control, and Allevato believes this is an essential part of
promoting animal welfare.
Allevato is described as exemplifying a caring, nurturing,
teamwork-based leadership style. Throughout her career, she has
been most often mentioned as a member of group projects, including
many HSUS shelter evaluation teams, and has tended to avoid conflict
with most people, Avanzino excepted.
Possibly not coincidentally, Marin County during Allevato’s
tenure at Marin Humane has attracted a constellation of national
animal advocacy organizations, each founded elsewhere but finding
Marin congenial to further growth. Among them are the Animal Legal
Defense Fund, the Humane Farming Association, and In Defense of
While Tompkins and Morse initiated the Marin Humane tradition
of working closely with national groups, Allevato has expanded it to
include active national outreach in shelter improvement, humane
education, and disaster relief.
Who will head Marin Humane post-Allevato is as yet an open
question. Her successor will inherit one of the strongest regional
humane societies in the world, with a $5.6 million annual budget and
$9 million in assets, and will arrive only months after the hiring
of new SF/SPCA president Jan McHugh-Smith.

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