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San Francisco SPCA Interview

A Q&A with SF/SPCA President Jan McHugh-Smith

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Image Courtesy of SF/SPCA

December 18, 2008

Jan McHugh-Smith, President of The San Francisco SPCA, answers questions about the various works of The SF/SPCA and the new Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center. She also addresses issues ranging from spay/neuter programs to how the organization matches potential owners with adoptable animals.

The San Francisco SPCA Website: www.sfspca.org

The SF/SPCA has been selected several times as the SF Bay Guardian's "Best Local Animal Rescue." What are some of things you think distinguish The SF/SPCA? And, for those who may not know, how does The SF/SPCA differ from San Francisco Animal Care and Control?

The San Francisco SPCA has been saving, protecting and caring for animals for 140 years, so we have a long history of service and working with the community to improve the lives of animals and their guardians. That type of history has produced many results and landmark changes in our work and the animal welfare field at large, but what I’m most proud about is how The SF/SPCA still cares deeply for the animals and people it serves. As large and as storied as we may be, we’re still distinguished by how much individual care, attention and expertise we bring to every animal that enters our doors.

Regarding the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control, this is the publicly-funded, regulatory agency in the city. The SF/SPCA is a community-supported nonprofit that receives no city money, so the only affiliation is a close partnership to ensure that we work together to save as many cats and dogs as we can. Almost all stray or surrendered animals go to ACC first, and we try to take as many of the harder-to-place ones to our shelter for care, rehabilitation and a chance to find a loving home through our own adoption center.

One of the goals of The SF/SPCA is to make San Francisco a no-kill city with respect to cats and dogs. For how many animals does The SF/SPCA find homes each year? And what are your ongoing goals with respect to adoption, outreach, or other issues relating to animals in San Francisco?

Last fiscal year, 2007-2008, The SF/SPCA found homes for more than 4,000 cats and dogs. This was an eight-year high, and a 25% increase over the previous year.

This is in large part due to a comprehensive approach that includes reducing the number of unwanted kittens and puppies through spaying/neutering, providing veterinary care to all animals, using behavior training to help more cats and dogs find and thrive in loving homes, increasing how and where the public encounters adoptable animals, and working with the community and policymakers to improve the conditions for our fellow animals.

We’re constantly looking for new and better ways to strengthen this comprehensive approach, and we plan to spay/neuter 12,000 cats and dogs in 2009 at our expanded veterinary hospital. That’s nearly twice as many this past year.

With the creation of the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center, what new services will The SF/SPCA be adding to existing programs?

Our new nonprofit veterinary hospital will not so much add new programs as it will expand existing services and the number of animals we can care for. It will provide all the services you’d expect from a primary care veterinary clinic — routine check-ups, vaccinations and prescriptions, spay/neuter procedures, common surgeries, etc. — but it will dramatically increase our capacity to care for homeless, shelter animals and feral cats, including doubling the number of animals we can spay/neuter each year.

What influence has The SF/SPCA had on other rescue and humane organizations around the Bay Area and around the country?

We are lucky to have so many dedicated, smart people working in the Bay Area and U.S. on animal welfare issues. I am sure we have learned as much from them as they have from us. With a 140-year history of pushing the envelope on how we live with and care for animals, I am sure there are many SF/SPCA approaches and programs that others have replicated.

For instance, our emphasis on low-cost spay/neuter programs has dramatically reduced the number of unwanted animals in San Francisco and is still the cornerstone of our work. We were the first animal welfare organization to run an Animal Assisted Therapy Program, which brings animals to health care facilities. Our positive, reward-based training methods have become accepted as a more effective, humane way to improve behavior. And our adoption center has been a model for how homeless animals can be sheltered and prepared for new lives in a beautiful, humane environment.

There are many other unique programs that we’re proud to see making a difference in the community, but sometimes the more conventional programs are the ones having the most influence and impact. For us, that is our charitable veterinary care.

What is the general process people must go through to adopt an animal at The SF/SPCA?

We think of our adoption counselors as dedicated matchmakers who are focused on placing cats and dogs in loving homes.

For dogs, we ask potential adopters to fill out a questionnaire and then they look around our adoption center. If they see a dog they are interested in, a staff member or counselor will introduce them to that dog. If they decide to adopt, the adopter will meet with a staff trainer for private counseling.

For cats, we use a program called Feline-ality, which is a research-based method of matching cats to potential adopters. It makes adoptions quicker, simpler and more successful by using color-coding and listing personality types. When prospective adopters come to the shelter they fill out a quick, fun quiz that identifies their preferences, expectations and lifestyle. Then the adopters are matched to cats in the color category that’s best suited to their needs. For instance, if you want a lap cat, a feline that hates being held probably isn’t for you! Feline-ality answers questions like this and streamlines the adoption process. The ultimate aim is a compatible match.

Next Page: Adopting older pets, addressing behavioral issues . . .

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