San Francisco’s SPCA Leads the Way in Philosophy and Results

San Francisco’s SPCA Leads the Way in Philosophy and Results

By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 03/27/1997 Category: | Canine Issues | Shelter Issues |

A few years ago, when the San Francisco SPCA ended its animal control contract with the city and began a quest for reducing euthanasia of unadopted pets, rescuers and shelter workers throughout the country raised a hue and cry.

"By claiming to be no-kill, they're just dumping the responsibility on the city," the story went. "There's not less killing; they're just evading the issue."

Not so.

The gradual shift from animal control agency to private, no-kill shelter charted new pathways for animal shelters, animal control agencies, and thousands of adoptable and treatable pets in this city of 800 thousand. Now, five years later, the SPCA's adoption pact with the city animal control agency assures that no dog or cat that is adoptable, no dog or cat that is treatable will die for lack of a new home.

A whirlwind tour of this huge inner city shelter with director and president Richard Avanzino reveals the tangible reasons for the success: the place hums with activity involving animals and people in the city's largest veterinary clinic, a grooming college, a hearing dog training center, a day care center for working owners, and a get-acquainted area for prospective new families and potential new family members.

After the tour, back to the office, where Avanzino's young male Great Dane joins the group for the obligatory petting, then goes to his bed beside the desk. Avanzino leans back in his chair, his eyes animated, his voice excited as he talks about the process that got his organization to this point and the philosophy that guides his management style.

A former politician - although many would say he's not so 'former' - Avanzino is an idea-man, a motivator, a money-magnet. He has been a small town mayor and has a background in fundraising and management of nonprofit agencies, not animal care. He has raised millions, for the veterinary clinic, for facility expansion, for animal care. The capital improvements budget this year is $6 million.


The power of positive thinking

  • San Francisco's SPCA's goal is to end the killing of treatable and adoptable animals in the city. The plans for reaching that goal are diverse -
  • sterilization of all animals that leave the shelter and a feral and stray cat program that actually pays people to bring cats for the surgery;
  • a pet care program for seniors that includes lifetime care for a pet that loses its home when the owner dies or becomes incapacitated;
  • behavior modification for dogs with bad habits that interfere with adoptability;
  • obedience classes for the general public as well as shelter adoptees;
  • a landlord-tenant program that allows more apartment dwellers to have pets;
  • a requirement that each SPCA department share the responsibility of raising its own budget;
  • counseling for prospective adopters;
  • medical care for animals that are debilitated, injured, or chronically ill;
  • a pact with the city animal control agency to provide the same services for adoptable and treatable dogs at that facility;
  • a commitment to each and every animal that enters the building on 16th Street that it will be given the best chance possible of finding a new home;
  • a marketing program that puts the SPCA on the doorstep and in the living room in the city with frequent mailings, newspaper articles, television appearances, and radio interviews;
  • a volunteer program that integrates caring helpers into every aspect of the effort;
  • a staff that is constantly on the make for new ideas and solutions;
  • an outreach adoption program;
  • a variety of education sessions from counseling for cat owners to summer camp for city kids;
  • an ethical issues department;
  • a membership of more than 60 thousand; and
  • a deep-seated belief that most people will do the right thing if they are given the opportunity and the knowledge to do so.



Does it work? You bet!

Even though the commitment to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals in the city brought a considerable increase in animals surrendered for adoption, the SF SPCA euthanized no adoptable or treatable animals at its facility in 1994 and saved all of the adoptable animals and many of the treatable animals at the city agency. This year, the SPCA will take in all treatable animals from the city.

The SPCA's 1994 adoption pact reports

  • that every "adoptable" dog and cat in the city's shelters found a loving new home - including old animals, blind animals, deaf animals, and disfigured animals.
  • record numbers of adoptions and decreased euthanasias of treatable animals by a whopping 49 percent (1320 in 1994, 2606 in 1993) ;
  • a 35 percent increase in numbers of dogs and cats saved over 1993 (7944 animals in 1994; 5871 in 1993);
  • an 18 percent reduction in total euthanasias in the city from 1993;
  • of 4589 dogs and cats euthanized at the city agency in 1994, 71 percent were categorized as non-rehabilitable or non-adoptable owner-request euthanasias.

These remarkable results have been achieved in the absence of the breeding control and number limit laws that are becoming more popular with animal rights advocates. San Francisco has a minuscule compliance rate with licensing laws, but most animals picked as strays are redeemed by their owners. All animals that leave the shelter are spayed or neutered and the shelter staff is too busy doing the job to find time to blame and vilify breeders or think up punitive restrictions that add to the enforcement burden, make criminals out of responsible pet owners, and fail to end the killing.

Information about this remarkably successful model is available from the San Francisco SPCA, 2500 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-6589, (415) 554-3000 or the San Francisco SPCA Website.

About The Author

Norma Bennett Woolf's photo
Norma Bennett Woolf -

Editor and Writer for the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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