Bully on the Block

The Humane Society stands in the way of a grant that could step up spay-and-neuter efforts in St. Louis

When Stray Rescue of St. Louis decided to apply for a grant that could bring up to $4 million to St. Louis to increase pet adoptions and stem the high euthanasia rate for unwanted cats and dogs, it approached eight other animal-welfare organizations in the city, the local veterinary association, seven veterinary hospitals, the city's Animal Regulation Center and the Humane Society of Missouri. If a collaborative effort were to succeed, every group would have to support the grant application -- and every shelter would have to be willing to openly provide data on the number of animals killed at its facility each year.

Everyone signed on to the project -- except the Humane Society of Missouri. And without its support, the grant proposal to Maddie's Fund -- a foundation created by PeopleSoft co-founder Dave Duffield -- is doomed.

Last week, as the Humane Society continued to steadfastly refuse to support such an application, the controversy erupted on the television airwaves as a David-versus-Goliath battle pitting tiny Stray Rescue, a volunteer organization with just one paid staff member and an annual budget of about $100,000, against the behemoth that is the Humane Society of Missouri, which, with an endowment of more than $50 million, is one of the wealthiest humane organizations in the nation. Smaller animal-welfare organizations in the city are questioning the Humane Society's motives, and U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1st) has entered the fray, urging the Humane Society to reconsider its position in light of the recent death of Rodney McAllister, 10, who was fatally mauled by stray dogs. Clay called it "unconscionable" not to apply for the money. So far though, even the congressman's intervention hasn't helped.

Mary Grim, mother of Stray Rescue founder Randy Grim
Jennifer Silverberg
Mary Grim, mother of Stray Rescue founder Randy Grim

Stray Rescue had been working on its proposal to Maddie's Fund for nearly two years. The fund, named after Duffield's miniature schnauzer, was given $200 million by Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, to spend making the country a "no-kill" nation. It awards multimillion-dollar, multiyear grants to community collaborative programs in exchange for a pledge that the project will find homes for all healthy, adoptable animals in the programs' designated area within a five-year period. The grantees must demonstrate a measurable impact on the problem on a quarterly and annual basis, and, in order to receive any money, the lead agency -- a no-kill organization -- must have the support of every animal-welfare organization in its designated area, which can be a city, county or state. Maddie's Fund also donates money to universities with veterinary colleges to help find ways to keep shelter pets healthier during longer stays and to veterinary associations to perform more spay/neuter surgeries.

Maddie's Fund president Richard Avanzino served as president of the San Francisco SPCA for years, a period during which the city went from having one of the highest euthanasia rates for any major city in the country to one of the lowest. Some 65,000 dogs and cats were euthanized annually 35 years ago, compared with about 2,000 today. He says the largest Maddie's Fund project to date is in the state of Utah. There, led by Best Friends, the largest animal sanctuary in the U.S., all 54 animal-control agencies, two shelters, 82 private veterinary hospitals and 22 no-kill organizations joined the statewide project, helped by a $1.3 million Maddie's Fund grant, which will ultimately total $8 million over five years. In its first six months, Avanzino says, adoptions increased 17 percent statewide and euthanasia figures declined by 9 percent.

Avanzino says it is up to the grantees to devise a strategy, but in Utah about 30 percent of the grant has been spent on advertising, promoting spay/neuter surgeries and adoptions, placing adoptable pets at shopping-mall locations and a mobile spay/neuter unit used to perform low-cost surgeries in rural areas. In its first two years, Maddie's Fund has awarded a total of $25 million in grants.

"The idea is that within a five-year period, not only do we get an adoption guarantee but we also grow the delivery system within the community," Avanzino says, "so they'll be successful in carrying out the goals in the future." If the projects receiving grants from part of the $200 million pot are successful in finding homes for healthy animals, he says, the foundation may receive another $800 million to spend on guaranteeing homes for sick, injured or behaviorally challenged animals.

Avanzino says all animal organizations in the area must support the project. "If we really want to have a community effort," he says, "we need to have community participation of the animal-welfare groups. It's been my experience that no group wants to kill an animal; everybody wants to save a life. We have found that groups we are funding, in spite of a history of disagreement or differing philosophies or different models, they are willing to put those things aside because they all agree on a common goal, which is to see the animals' lives get saved." That said, Avanzino adds, the bulk of the responsibility falls on the agency that receives the grant. A humane society, for example, is required only to turn over its euthanasia figures so that the progress of the grantee can be accurately measured in the community.

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