Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Trouble Continues at San Francisco SPCA


The San Francisco SPCA, which has a nationwide reputation as a leader in public education about animal care and urban planning for animal control, has fallen on hard times, and it's hard not to conclude that it's the organization's own fault. They're running a big deficit and just laid off almost two-dozen people.

The group has been under intense fire for the past couple years from local animal activists (including many former volunteers at SF SPCA) over its focus on a new hospital, the closure of programs that trained hearing dogs (and then its successful attempt to wrest away a $500,000 donation to be used for the hearing dog program it doesn't seem to have any longer), trouble between SF/SPCA and local animal rescue groups, and its newfound preference for carting-in animals from other counties instead of taking animals from the city pound and finding homes for them.

Is all of that criticism taking its toll? In a new story on NBC 11 (a San Francisco Bay Area TV station), critics argue that SF SPCA wastes money, pays executives too much, and -- worst of all -- is betraying its duty to train and find homes for animals that might not be easy to adopt because they're older (and people mostly want kittens and puppies) or have small behavioral problems.

I'll admit my bias here. I briefly volunteered at SF SPCA earlier this decade, and we adopted our cat from there. Charlie (pictured, above) fell into what was known as "category 4," which would likely earn him a swift trip to the euthanasia chamber these days, according to the articles I've been reading. He can get over-stimulated when playing or when over-pet and can respond by biting or scratching. (He'd been returned to the shelter twice by previous adopters, and he bit one woman who almost adopted him.) But that's easy for us to handle, because we know how to watch for the signs and how not to overreact. When we adopted him, the SF SPCA folks took the time to make sure we knew how to deal with such a cat and that we knew what we were getting into.

We've now had him for about five years, and we've never regretted it. If the shelter hadn't seen him as an animal whose life was worth saving, and if it hadn't had the expertise on staff to help potential adopters, and if it hadn't had the patience to work with a cat who had made many fans at the shelter despite his quirks, then Charlie would have been killed before we had the chance to meet him and have him capture our hearts. That's the thing that I fear is being lost as SF SPCA keeps going in the direction in which it is going. Animals already get treated like commodities at most city pounds; either they're cute and can be adopted within a few days, or they are disposed of.

But what I think SF SPCA means to so many people is that it taught people to look at the animal as an animal -- and to find the right home for it. You see, there's nothing wrong with Charlie as a cat. His over-stimulation (which has moderated somewhat under our care) is something that probably helped him quite a bit when he was living on the streets before SF SPCA captured him. But too many people still look at dogs and cats as if they are either toys or wannabe-humans. They're neither.

Now, this article in the Northside newspaper argues that SF SPCA only wants the cute and cuddly cats and dogs that can be moved off the shelves very quickly. There's no room for Charlie at SF SPCA any more. That's a tragedy. He's a very handsome, fun, smart, and well-adjusted cat. He wouldn't have deserved a fate of the euthanasia chamber.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/video.

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