The San Francisco SPCA is proud to announce our first proposed legislation tackling our state’s current access-to-veterinary-care crisis.  

As many of you know, a growing shortage of veterinarians is impacting hundreds of thousands of California’s shelter and companion animals. We’re seeing delays in medical treatment, overcrowding in the shelters, and more outbreaks of disease. Sometimes, shelters are left with no other option than to euthanize treatable, adoptable pets, while some pet guardians are forced to surrender their animals because they cannot get the care they need.

That’s why we’re so grateful to Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris for introducing AB 1237, a bill we crafted and cosponsored with our friends at the San Diego Humane Society. This proposed legislation is a big step toward helping California’s most vulnerable cats and dogs receive the care they need and deserve. 

AB 1237 will bring veterinary care to struggling shelters 

AB 1237 proposes up to $150,000 in educational debt relief to licensed California veterinarians who agree to work for California animal shelters or in underserved communities for at least five years.  

Currently, new veterinarians are burdened with the second highest monthly debt-to-income ratio among graduate degree holders. Should AB 1237 pass, the much-needed debt relief will incentivize careers in sheltering or the community service space. 

Veterinary shortages hurt animals, shelters, and people 

According to a survey of California animal shelters, which we led recently with several partners, nearly 350,000 California shelter animals do not have adequate access to veterinary care staff. Meanwhile, among shelters with budgeted positions for veterinarians and veterinarian nurses, more than 50% of those positions remain vacant due to a lack of candidates.  

The reduction in resources negatively impacts animals, limits community safety net services, strains shelter budgets, and takes a toll on staff mental health and morale. Unless we take immediate steps to mitigate the suffering, these issues will only worsen. 

Standing for the welfare of all companion animals 

Since our founding 155 years ago, the SF SPCA has advocated tirelessly for the wellbeing of animals. Today, we’re sharpening our focus to ensure all animals have access to quality medical care, compassionate shelter, and a loving home.  

AB 1237 is the first of what I hope will be a series of solutions that deliver on this heartfelt promise.  

What you can to do help 

Right now is a great time to adopt, donate, or volunteer at the SF SPCA or your local animal shelter. You can also help out by sharing this story and any related posts on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

For some time, animal advocates have sounded the alarm about the growing shortage of veterinarians and veterinary care staff across the nation. Earlier this year, we led a statewide survey* to investigate the impact of this crisis. The results are in, and the situation is even more dire than we expected. 

Today, 344,000 California shelter animals do not have adequate access to veterinary care staff; 68% of shelters cannot consistently provide complete care to treat conditions commonly seen in shelters, such as fractures, eye injuries, and dental problems; and 40% of animal shelters cannot provide consistent access to spay and neuter services, which are required in California before animals can be adopted, according to the statewide survey. 

The effects of this crisis are far-reaching, creating a downward spiral of challenges that impact shelter animals, communities, shelter budgets, and staff. 

Impact on shelter animals 

Lack of access to veterinary care in shelters means animals wait longer for care and languish in shelters, which negatively impacts animals’ physical and mental health. One survey respondent said, “We’ve got more dogs than we’ve ever had that are staying for longer periods of time, that all have medical problems.” 

Backlogs in veterinary care lead to overcrowding, increased spread of disease, unnecessary suffering, and even euthanasia of animals who are healthy or treatable. One respondent shared, “I would say we have animals actually dying in our shelter that if we had proper medical experience, medical staff on board, would not have passed.” Another respondent said, “Our current distemper outbreak is a result of lack of access to care. We’re euthanizing animals as soon as they test positive, whether it’s low positive or high positive.” 

Longer stays don’t just affect animals physically, as one response reveals. “These are dogs that were with us for way, way too long that we’ve tried everything. We couldn’t find a foster home for them, and they deteriorated in the shelter.” 

Impact on communities 

Lack of access to veterinary care means shelters have no choice but to limit community safety net services, intake prevention, adoptions, and foster programs. Shelters’ reduced ability to provide spay and neuter services was named as the most critical unmet need. The problem impacts shelter ability to meet legal mandates and contributes to shelter overcrowding. 

One respondent said, “When our vet told us they could only do five spay/neuter surgeries a day, that means animals were being held here for two weeks or more waiting to go to the vet. That quickly became unsustainable because I’m out of kennel space.” Another said, “We have placed 700 animals that need spay/neuter right now. So, they’re currently in the foster care system only waiting on their space. That’s a huge backlog.” 

Limited veterinary care and spay/neuter services negatively impact public spay/neuter services, including community cat programs that, when functional, greatly reduce stray populations as well as shelter intakes. One respondent shared, “Our community cat program is nowhere near where it should be. I think we…made a lot of headway pre-pandemic and it’s like, we’re right back to ground zero.” 

Lack of access in the community means more pet guardians are turning to emergency clinics to address basic veterinary care—leaving clinics with reduced ability to address emergency cases. A respondent said, “You hear horror stories of people putting their dog or their cat in the car and starting to drive an hour, two hours away and the animal passes on them while they’re in transport. Just because there isn’t any local support.” 

Impact on shelter budgets 

Increased length of stay, overcrowding, and disease outbreaks add strain to shelter finances. Incoming animals are arriving with more complex and expensive medical needs, and lack of access means some shelter staff are traveling long distances to obtain emergency care for animals, which increases salary and transportation expenses. “In the last 10 years,” one respondent said, “a budget of $42,000 (went up) to $250,000 for emergency care.” 

“We had a mama and her very young puppies come down with kennel cough. (We) had to take them all…an hour’s drive and stay there most of the night waiting for them to be seen and treated. There is a local vet 10 minutes away, but unfortunately, he does not handle after-hours emergencies and he is too busy to even help us with anything other than occasional rabies vaccinations.”  

Impact on shelter staff 

Finally, morale and well-being of shelter staff are negatively impacted by the lack of veterinary care. Turnover is high and those who remain are vulnerable to the stress. Many say they’re overwhelmed by overcrowding and emotionally challenged by animals’ poor medical conditions. Leaders say everyone is in “survival mode,” doing the best they can in a diminishing situation. 

“I think it’s mostly affecting more of the staff than anything,” said one respondent. “I’ve never seen it as bad as it’s been this last six to eight months. Staff are caught in the middle. The animals keep coming and everything we try to do to either keep them from coming in or to get them out. It’s all falling on the shoulders of the staff and I think is what’s going to crush them.” 

Another said, “Some of us don’t keep going. Some of us kill ourselves and so it is the most dangerous time in our profession, ever.” 

How can you help? 

The SF SPCA, advocates, and fellow shelters are working to partner with oversight agencies for solutions. Here’s how you can help homeless animals today: 

Our work is more important now than ever. 

We know you share our loving commitment to shelter animals. Reach out to us today if you’d like to learn more about how to help. Together, we’ll find solutions for shelter animals across our state. 

You can find the full results of our survey at 

* The survey was conducted by the SF SPCA in partnership with the UC-Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, CalAnimals, University of Tennessee Pet Health Equity Program, Humane Society of Silicon Valley, and San Diego Humane Society. It was made possible through a California for All Animals grant from the UC-Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program.  

Although National Pit Bull Awareness Month (October) has ended, we’re celebrating this loyal and loving breed here at the SF SPCA all year. With their broad, smiley faces and floppy ears, anyone who’s ever loved one of these dogs knows how affectionate, playful, and goofy they can be.  

The term “Pit Bull” officially applies to three breeds: the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Any dog with such heritage or appearance can be labeled a “Pit Bull.” And unfortunately, mainly due to the behavior of humans, this “breed” is also viewed as dangerous and aggressive. 

Here, we push back on some of the most common stereotypes about Pit Bull-type dogs.  

Myth #1: Pit Bulls are more dangerous than other dogs 

Peer-reviewed studies examining “dog-bite-related fatalities” (DBRF) conclude that most DBRFs are owed to preventable factors like mistreatment, poor handling, and isolation—not breed. Additionally, in German state-regulated temperament tests, dogs deemed “dangerous” by the public responded similarly to dogs viewed as “friendly,” contradicting breed-based biases.  

Myth #2: Pit Bulls are more aggressive than most dogs 

Also unrelated to breed, aggression is a “context-dependent behavior and most often fear-based, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Identifying triggers and needs, ruling out medical contributors, and positive behavioral training are proven effective treatments for aggression in any dog breed. 

Myth #3: Pit Bulls have locking jaws 

There’s no evidence a Pit Bull’s jaws are anatomically different from other dog breeds, and peer-reviewed studies reveal the power of a dog’s bite is related to its overall size and strength. A locked jaw in any animal is a physical ailment that requires veterinary medical intervention and cannot be engaged and released at will.  

Myth #4: Pit Bull specific legislation keeps people safe 

Breed-specific laws do nothing to keep people safer—even the CDC opposes them. In areas where bans are in place, Pit Bull guardians tend to restrict dogs’ outdoor time and socialization, which can ultimately worsen or even create behavior issues. Furthermore, labeling certain dog breeds can create a false sense of safety with other types. All dogs, regardless of their breed, if unknown, should be handled with as much care and caution as any other dog. 

Myth #5: If adopting a Pit Bull, choose a puppy so you can shape its personality 

A dog’s personality is as individual as ours and is innate. A dog’s character and traits don’t fully reveal themselves until adulthood. Suppose a would-be Pit Bull (or any dog breed) guardian has a particular personality in mind. In that case, it’s best to adopt a grown dog whose traits like energy level, degree of submissiveness to humans, or dog aggression is easily determined. 


For information about adopting a Pit Bull-type dog at SF SPCA, contact And, if your dog of any breed displays behavior that concerns you, reach out to our Behavior team at

With the proper preparation and common sense precautions, you and your pet can safely enjoy the spooky season together. Download our printable PDF SF SPCA Halloween Tips with great advice for keeping your pet safe and happy during the Halloween festivities. And read on for additional tips from our very own Dr. Jennifer Scarlett.

“Keep pets inside the house whether you’re out trick-or-treating or at home passing out candy,” advises Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, SF SPCA President. “Pets are safest indoors, away from frightening noises and potential hazards. If you’re passing out candy, consider putting your pet in a separate room so they don’t accidentally slip out the door.”

If the constant influx of strangers to the door spooks your pet, keep them in a quiet and comfortable room with a bed or crate, favorite toy, treat, or food puzzle. Some pets can benefit from having the TV or radio on. Calming pheromone products like Adaptil spray and collars work well for dogs and cats. If anxiety is still a problem, talk to your veterinarian or contact the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Clinic.

“This is also a good time to ensure that your pets are microchipped and wearing an identification tag,” said Dr. Scarlett. “Lost animals at a shelter are far more likely to find their way home if they’re microchipped.”

Pet owners are encouraged to register with a universal microchip database such as Take a current picture of your pet as an added precaution.

Additional safety tips:


Happy (and Safe!) Halloween from your friends at the San Francisco SPCA

Stevie Wonderful – a handsome orange tabby – recently had a terrible accident where he fell 80 feet from a rooftop and became wedged between two buildings. Miraculously, Stevie was rescued by firefighters and survived.

Stevie’s guardian, Dee Dee, rushed him to an emergency night time veterinary practice, where doctors set the bones of his fractured wrist. In the month that followed, Dee Dee lost sleep as she paid for more veterinary visits, pain medication, and eventually learned that Stevie would need surgery to amputate his leg.

As she wondered how much deeper she’d have to dip into her savings to pay for the surgery, Dee Dee’s research led her back to the San Francisco SPCA – where she adopted Stevie on Valentine’s Day 2019.

Dee Dee was deeply relieved to discover our Financial Assistance program. Soon after, our veterinarians performed the successful surgery to remove Stevie’s damaged leg, and his healing began.

Today, Dee Dee says Stevie is slowly going back to his cheerful, affectionate self.

No guardian should have to give up their pet because they can’t afford veterinary care. Our Financial Assistance program helps keep pets where they belong – in their loving homes.

The need for financial assistance is huge – last year, our program helped more than 2,600 pets! We started our fiscal year by allocating $250,000 to our Financial Assistance program. By January, the funds had depleted, so we quickly started raising more money to help clients like Dee Dee and Stevie Wonderful.

Please consider making a monthly gift to help get animals like Stevie Wonderful the care they deserve, so they can stay with their loving families. All monthly gifts help save homeless animals every month and provide steady support to animals in need.

Stevie Wonderful, a cat saved by the SF SPCA

Interview with Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer

How long have you worked at the SF SPCA?

8.5 years

Do you have pets?

Yes! Oscar, an 11-year-old dachshund and Simon, a 9-year-old shorthaired tabby

How would you describe the SF SPCA in one word?


What motivates your work at the SF SPCA on a daily basis?

At the SF SPCA, we’re always searching for better ways to provide care, to drive conversations and push limits that others may not. Right now, we’re looking at veterinary care in a new way, thinking about how we can deliver lifesaving services for pets and the people who love them. We’re being deliberate about how we bring clients in and how we can cast the biggest net to reach as many people as possible.

How did the monthly Mobile Vaccine Clinic (MVC) at the Cow Palace and low-cost Call-Ahead Clinic (CAC) at the Mission Campus begin?

In 2010, I was working in the SF SPCA hospital, and we noticed a high volume of parvovirus cases coming in from a specific zip code. Parvo can be fatal if not treated, and vaccinating pets is the best protection. This is what led to the creation of the Mobile Vaccine Clinic.

Through the MVC, we started to get to know the community and focused on listening to what we could do to expand care in ways that would be the most useful to clients. These conversations sparked the idea for the Call-Ahead Clinic. Essentially, we created the CAC as a bridge between the MVC and the campus hospitals.

How did the MVC and CAC pave the way for the new Community Clinic?

From talking to the community, we learned that we needed to address two key barriers: cost and transportation. The Community Clinic is a continuation of how we are expanding access to veterinary care. It’s modeled after the CAC and will offer a similar menu of items: care for non-emergent concerns, flea and tick preventatives, heartworm protection, treatment for minor skin and ear cases, and vaccines.

Creating this clinic meant we had to address cost in a way that would be financially sustainable for the organization, so the price point reflects both what clients can afford and what is necessary for ongoing operating costs. Then we started looking for a brick-and-mortar location. It was clear we needed to locate somewhere within the Excelsior neighborhood, which would help people overcome the barrier of transportation.

We also wanted to bring in people from the community to address the lack of diversity in veterinary medicine as well as a decline in veterinary professionals entering the field. That’s where the mentor training program, CoMET, comes in.

Is this a model that can be replicated in other communities and by other shelters?

Yes! Our goal is to have another location. This isn’t just for San Francisco. A successful model means we can replicate this, and it’s a project that can be replicated by our partner shelters. The more shelters who can deliver non-traditional veterinary services and offer mentoring opportunities will equate to more pet guardians accessing care and more trained providers in the field, directly addressing the current veterinary shortage.

Where do you see the Community Medicine Department in five years?

In five years, I see the clinic thriving as a valuable, trusted resource to the community, hopefully open on a daily basis. CoMET will have a couple of cohorts each year to support the veterinary profession in general. Everything about it is a win for animals and the people who consider them part of their family.

Your support makes our access to care programs possible. All donations made before 6/30 will be matched up to $250k. Please make a gift today.

This summer, we’re dismantling the two biggest barriers to veterinary care—cost and transportation—with our new Community Veterinary Clinic in the Excelsior neighborhood. The clinic will be the first of its kind in the city, offering a selection of low-cost, fixed-fee veterinary care. Services will include vaccines, heartworm protection, flea and tick preventatives, treatment for skin and ear infections, and more.

“The Community Veterinary Clinic is about getting away from a one-size-fits-all approach to care, by listening to our clients and working with them to develop a treatment plan that considers their individual goals and resources,” said SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jena Valdez.

Since the pandemic, economic hardship has increased. As cost of care continues to rise over the next decade, it’s fair to assume underserved communities will suffer disproportionately. If we’re going to achieve our goal of expanding veterinary access to all pet guardians, we need to create new options for access to high-quality pet care.

“We’re creating ways to help prevent animals from being surrendered to shelters and identifying what we can do to help animals stay in the best home possible: the one they’re in,” said Dr. Valdez.

Modeled after the Call-Ahead Clinic at the SF SPCA Mission Campus, the Community Veterinary Clinic will provide lifesaving care in a way that can be replicated by other organizations.

Over time, we hope to establish as many low-cost clinics throughout San Francisco as are needed by our city’s currently underserved communities. Then, we want to expand the clinic’s model and deliver it across the state and beyond.

The Community Veterinary Clinic would not be possible without your support. Please make a donation today so that we can make veterinary care accessible for all pets.

Photo: Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer, will oversee the Community Veterinary Clinic.


Grand Opening! Shelter Medicine Surgical Suite

This month we are opening a new surgical suite for shelter animals who need medical procedures. Not only will this greatly increase our capacity to help homeless animals, it will also free up space in our Spay/Neuter Clinic so we can perform more procedures. The new surgical suite will increase our spay/neuter capacity by at least 50%.

Currently, our Community Medicine and Shelter Medicine programs share one surgical suite, where we perform spay/neuter procedures, surgeries for both homeless and owned animals, and medical care for animals served through partnerships. There is more demand for these services than our one surgical suite can provide.

“There has been an increase in the number of homeless animals needing medical treatment, as well as an increase in the demand for spay/neuter surgeries for client-owned animals,” said Dr. Jena Valdez, SF SPCA Chief Medical Officer. “By opening a new Shelter Medicine surgical suite, we will dramatically increase our capacity to provide veterinary care for the animals who need our help.”

More than half of the spay/neuter surgeries we perform for client-owned animals are reduced cost or free. In addition, the new suite will allow us to help more homeless animals who need critical medical treatment before they find their forever homes.

The new surgical suite would not be possible without our generous donors. Please consider making a gift today to help animals in need get the medical care they deserve.


“Riley was always a playful puppy. She loved the off-leash dog park. While her play style was rough, we never saw a problem. One day a new dog joined the dog park and a fight between Riley and the other dog broke out. The other dog was injured and had to be taken to the hospital.

We hired a trainer right away and didn’t go back to the park. More than a year later, while Riley was playing in the backyard she slipped by me and hurt another dog who was on a walk with their owner. I was beside myself and again called the trainer.

We made a plan to secure our backyard. Unfortunately, Riley slipped out and again injured another dog. I desperately looked for pet behavior services and found Dr. Wailani Sung at the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Clinic.

During our consultation, Dr. Sung provided multiple recommendations to help Riley. Dr. Sung recommended counter conditioning exercises as well as switching to a harness and gentle lead instead of the chain collar the trainer had recommended. We started Riley on Fluoxetine, which has helped calm her anxiety. These recommendations combined with information for me on how to work with Riley were necessary for Riley and me to succeed.

The bond my family has with Riley now is much stronger after working with Dr. Sung. Riley is less anxious and my family and I better understand her strengths and weakness, making it possible for her thrive in our home.”

Need help with your pet’s behavior issue? Contact the SF SPCA’s Behavior Specialty Services.

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