Response to Recent Article

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Dear Friends,

We are happy to provide you with additional information about the inaccuracies reported in the Northside article. In addition to providing facts and figures that directly contradict many of the assumptions made in the Northside article, we’ve tried to add a bit more context, so that you can understand the multidimensional nature of the issues at hand.
Armed with these facts and a view of the bigger picture, I do hope that you will be inspired to advocate for the good work The SF/SPCA is doing everyday—from writing a letter to the editor ( to expressing your opinion through personal blog posts, Twitter, and/or Facebook.

First, let’s start at the beginning. Why did The SF/SPCA choose not to participate in Susan Reynolds’ article? It was actually a very easy decision. From the very first correspondence from Ms. Reynolds, which was filled with accusations and inquiries into employee’s personal lives, it was obvious the reporter was approaching the article with a preexisting bias against The SF/SPCA. When we received disturbing, overwrought statements from Ms. Reynolds such as: “ …the needle simply reaches across the street to ACC where you let them be the executioner while you truck in dogs from other counties (and other states),” we knew that it was in our best interest not to be involved in an article that was being reported without objective journalistic standards. 
We aren’t afraid of answering tough questions, but we demand those questions be communicated in a professional manner. We stand by our decision.
That said, please find an audit of many of the facts stated in the Northside article below.

The SF/SPCA is committed to working together to save as many animals lives as possible and we are focused on our mission to do this using the resources available to us.  San Francisco remains one of the safest communities in the U.S. for homeless cats and dogs.

While philosophical differences among organizations exist, ultimately, we share the same mission of wanting to save as many lives as possible.  Infighting among organizations ultimately hurts the animals.  We believe there’s room for all of us to work together in solving the problem of saving our animals.

Best regards,
Jan McHugh-Smith


Northside Mistruths SF/SPCA Facts
About Our Organization
The SF/SPCA has one of the highest rates of public donations of any private shelter in the country. This is unsubstantiated, but if it's true it makes us realize we must be doing something right: people donate to charities they believe in and they continue donating when they see their contributions making a difference. The SF/SPCA has earned and maintained the trust of well-educated, involved donors who help support our work.
The SFSPCA is receiving over $23M a year in donations. Our 990's are available on In fiscal year 2007/2008, we received $2.6M in general contributions and just under $10M in bequests – contributions generously left in estate plans by individuals. Estate contributions vary year to year. We expensed $13.8M to support our services. We also received contributions from donors for our capital campaign.
About Our Adoption Pact with ACC
The SFSPCA is violating the Adoption Pact with ACC
  • This is categorically false. In fact, we adhere to the Adoption Pact by taking "available" cats and dogs offered to us every day. It is important to understand that the Pact stipulates that The SF/SPCA is only obligated to take "Available" aka adoptable animals that the ACC offers to us. We go beyond the Adoption Pact as resources allow by taking cats and dogs designated as "medical" and "behavior" cases.  We send our team of dog and cat trainers to ACC to see if we can find  animals to bring back to our shelter.  Of these animals, we select the dogs and cats  we have the resources for. The rescue groups serve as the final safety net for remaining dogs whose behavior/ health are not conducive to living in a shelter environment and don't pass our behavior evaluation. It's our goal to place animals that are behaviorally sound and healthy.
  • The numbers: In calendar year 2008, we accepted 160 dogs from ACC and over 2,000 cats. Without our shelter medicine and adoption program, the Live Release Rate in SF would be significantly lower. Through efforts by The SF/SPCA, SF ACC and rescue groups, we have made San Francisco one of the safest communities for homeless animals in the U.S.
Using Our Resources to Help the Community
The SFSPCA isn't using its resources to fund education and spay/neuter surgeries.
  • The SF/SPCA provides a range of programs and services that are at no- or low-cost to the San Francisco Community. Our Veterinary Hospital provides financial assistance and payment arrangements to individuals who qualify.
  • We are the only animal shelter in SF that offers subsidized spay/neuter for pet guardians who qualify and free sterilization to feral cats trapped in SF.
  • The SF/SPCA performed 6,694 surgeries at the spay/neuter clinic in FY 08/09. Of the 2,041 public surgeries provided through the clinic 82% of these surgeries were discounted at some level. 51% of these public surgeries (1,020) were provided to the general public for free. 23% of the public surgeries (469 surgeries) were given a discount of 20-80%.
  • Our Adoption Center and Shelter Medicine Program offer adoption fees that are much less than our costs to provide medical care and housing to our homeless animals.
  • Our focus on education and outreach is through our Humane Education program, which is designed for youth to enhance compassion, demonstrate respect and focus on responsible pet guardianship.  We promote advocacy on behalf of animals by providing youth with the understanding that they can use their compassion to protect and help animals in our community.
  • We provide dog training programs, cat claw clipping clinics, behavior information, and private training programs which use positive-reinforcement techniques.  
  • Our Animal-Assisted Therapy programs demonstrate the important role that animals play in motivating, communicating and healing by bringing the love of companion animals to people in facilities located in San Francisco.
About Out-of-County Transfer
The SF/SPCA rescues animals from shelters outside of San Francisco
  • While some local rescue groups oppose our decision to bring in animals from other shelters, we are passionately committed to saving lives within the borders of San Francisco and beyond.
  • In fact, in 2008, we increased the community's Live Release Rate an additional 2% to 87% from the previous year while adopting out more animals.
  • Each animal shelter and rescue group has philosophical differences about how best to use its resources. We're fortunate to work and live in an area where there is a large number of people who are willing and able to adopt more animals than we have in our county.
  • On occasion, The SF/SPCA and SF ACC will work with other organizations to assist or rescue animals from out-of-county that come to us from hoarding and cruelty cases to help out other agencies and communities.
  • Each animal that is euthanized is heart-breaking, so we are all doing more for our community’s animals and those in our network than ever before.
  • We receive letters of thanks from places, like Madera County, who are grateful for the transfer program that the SF/SPCA has in place.
  • Madera County Animal Services receives over 9,000 animals annually. A mere 17 employees in a 9500 sq ft building work to adopt 2,000 animals, but are forced to euthanize 5,000 dogs and cats a year. Madera reports, "By rescuing our animals The SF/SPCA allows us the time and opportunity to educate our community on the importance of spaying and neutering, to improve our own adoption efforts and to more humanely care for those animals in our care."
  • The Calaveras County Animal Shelter reports that 500 cats and 156 dogs were euthanized last year and on two occasions, they were forced to euthanize their entire cat population due to a disease outbreak related to overcrowding. A video expressing their gratitude is posted on our website.
  • Lake County Animal Control reports: "One of our goals in 2008 was to reduce our euthanasia rate by 20% or more; The SF/SPCA played a major role in attaining that goal."
  • Mendocino County says: "We don't want to euthanize any adoptable animals. When The SF/SPCA is able to take our animals we don't have to euthanize for space."
  • Many of the shelters we transfer from have low cost spay/neuter programs or voucher systems to help reduce over population. It gives them an opportunity to solve their community's animal issues.
  • Our transfer program is not simply a band-aid for these counties, but a way for them to increase their adoptions, put more resources into the animals at their shelter that need treatment, and improve their community programs.
  • Our transfer program saves medically and behaviorally sound dogs from being euthanized simply due to space and time. It also helps San Francisco animals as well. Having a continual selection of friendly, healthy animals in our adoption center ensures that the public will come to us when seeking a new pet. While at the SF/SPCA, they very well may fall in love with the shy cat we took from Animal Control. Or perhaps they won’t be able to resist the geriatric stray dog that came into Animal Control as a stray and was then transferred into our care. There truly is an animal companion for every family at our Shelter.
Taking animals from out-of-county shelters is merely a band-aid and does not meaningfully address the root causes of overpopulation. Our transfer provides these shelters a way to increase their adoptions, put more resources into the animals at their shelter that need treatment, and improve their community programs. Every shelter we transfer from has low cost spay/neuter programs or voucher systems to help reduce overpopulation.  We take the pressure off, so that they have an opportunity to solve their community's animal issues.
The SF/SPCA returns dogs to high-kill shelters. We honor agreements with our transfer partners who sometimes want to be notified if a dog is not going to adapt to our shelter environment. Instead of euthanizing the animal, we will return the animal to the source agency if alternative options are available. If there are no other options, we will not return an animal if we know it is going to be euthanized. This is a common practice with rescue groups and shelters here and throughout the U.S.
Dr. Scarlett is allowed to transfer dogs from her work with Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS). Dr. Scarlett's work with RAVS centers on RAVS' mission to provide medical care and spay/neuter to impoverished communities.  RAVS' goal is to lessen the animal suffering in those communities as well as to teach veterinary students and expose them to the plight of rural poverty in the US—its effect on people and animals.  On one such trip, Dr. Scarlett brought back animals who were victims of hoarding, abandonment, and neglect. Not only did her selfless act underscore her commitment to animals, it saved lives.
About Working with SF Rescue Groups
In response to criticism from Rocket Dog Rescue related to payment of SF/SPCA services We invited Rocket Dog Rescue to become part of our rescue partnership program.  The SF/SPCA offers a 50% discount on spay/neuter services (not 30% as reported in the article) and 30% discount on medical care with the expectation that they will pay at the time services are provided.  Rocket Dog Rescue indicated that they wanted to be part of the partnership and used our services.  Our goal was to set-up a payment plan with Rocket Dog Rescue that would take into consideration their financial situation.
What is SF/SPCA's attitude toward rescue groups?

Rescue groups have an important role to play in saving animals in our community and their efforts are focused on a smaller group of dogs. Rescue groups can place dogs whose behavior necessitates they be managed over time and in a non-shelter environment.

We are committed to working with our partners, including San Francisco ACC and local rescue groups. We also recognize that The SF/SPCA has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our community. In addition to providing discounted services for local rescue groups, The SF/SPCA also accommodates dogs for 24 hours on behalf of local rescue groups who have made arrangements with out-of-county shelters.

Facts about Dori Villalon, vice president of The SF/SPCA
  Villalon was appointed in November 2006 as Director of Sonoma County Animal Care & Control, not Sonoma County Humane Society. She completed one year of service and resigned her position in good standing to accept the position of VP at The SF/SPCA in 2008. Upon her departure, the Sonoma County Press Democrat noted "...Villalon's decision to take a job as vice president of the SPCA in San Francisco is the county's loss." For the full article, please view