SF Weekly Letters

A Time to Critique

Rolled-up newspaper for Geluardi: Many current SF/SPCA staff spent hours in forthright conversation with your reporter John Geluardi about changes at the SF/SPCA. Unfortunately, the published article, "A Time to Kill" [6/11], denied readers crucial factual information your reporter was given.

Since 1994, no healthy, friendly animal has been euthanized in our city. The SF/SPCA has an enviable 98 percent save rate and 84 percent for the city when our figures are combined with our partner, S.F. Animal Care and Control.

Our recent efforts to maximize our life-saving potential have resulted in saving an additional 766 animals over the past year as compared to last. 345 cats and 421 dogs are proof of our life-saving progress. In the past 12 months, the SF/SPCA has adopted out approximately 4,000 animals. This achievement hasn't increased the percentage of returned animals, or those we sadly had to euthanize due to illness or behavior instability.

Euthanasia decisions are labored over and made only after every viable humane option is exhausted. In the cases your reporter referenced, Tulane was examined by our expert veterinary staff and found to be irredeemably suffering. Releasing him into a feral colony would have been inhumane and irresponsible. For Isaac, another difficult decision was the responsible one. At 50 pounds and with a known history of aggression directed at children, including a bite that broke skin, rehoming him was not an option for public safety reasons.

In 1998, the SF/SPCA's Maddie's Adoption Center set a world standard for animal sheltering. Well ventilated, naturally lit, soundproof condos keep cats and dogs happy and healthy while attracting potential adopters. It's time to enhance the homeless-animal veterinary care we provide. Our current shelter medicine building has served us well since 1932. We'll soon be able to save even more lives, since nearly 50 percent of the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center is dedicated to homeless animal rehabilitation and sheltering.

The SF/SPCA's programs are changing. For the additional 766 animals that were saved over the past year who don't have a voice, we can only speculate what they would have to say about our recent changes.

Jan McHugh-Smith

President, SF/SPCA

San Francisco

Geluardi responds: Nowhere in the article did I write that the SF/SPCA was euthanizing healthy, friendly animals. I did write that the SF/SPCA is now euthanizing disturbed or ill animals it would have tried to rehabilitate or cure under the "no-kill" policy that was put in force in 1994. As an example, I wrote about Tulane, a cat who was euthanized for not eating and for exhibiting fearful and aggressive behavior. According to McHugh-Smith, Tulane was examined by veterinary staff and was put down because he was found to be irredeemably suffering. There is no record of a thorough medical examination. In fact, according to the medical log, Tulane was never examined at all other than by observation.

McHugh-Smith refers to Isaac as a "50-pound dog" who allegedly nipped and broke the skin of a nine-year-old boy. But Isaac wasn't an adult dog; he was six months old, and according to his medical chart, had been well adjusted and friendly when he was adopted out at two months old. The fact that he was put down so quickly after his return shocked many at the SF/SPCA, which likes to boast of its world-class dog training and behavior programs.

Euthanize the albatross: The most important point of the article is that an organization that serves a community and relies on that same community for support has unilaterally changed its core mission while trying to keep this change hidden from the community. When the SF/SPCA formed its new relationship with the City of San Francisco, ceasing to be the city's official shelter and animal control provider, it did so to become one of the first no-kill shelters in the U.S.

What has happened at the SF/SPCA appears to be the end result of a good idea gone horribly wrong. The Roberts Medical Center was supposed to be a state-of-the-art veterinary center, providing high-level care to the SF-Bay and Northern California region on a for-profit basis. The profits were to be used to enhance and expand the SF/SPCA's core mission of caring for the abandoned animals of San Francisco. For whatever reasons — escalating construction costs, poor planning, the latest round of economic downturns — the Roberts Medical Center has become an albatross around the neck of the SF/SPCA. The result is the erosion of the SF/SPCA's proud legacy.

The many people who are upset about the changes at the SF/SPCA are not idle complainers. They foster animals; they work with various other animal rescue groups; they bring animals into their own homes (sometimes at the risk of losing an apartment). But no amount of ad hoc rescue activity out of people's homes and backyards can replace what is being lost at the SF/SPCA, and I'm certain that the leaders of any of the area's rescue groups would say the same thing. And yes, change is inevitable, and yes, a private organization has the right to set its own course. But that doesn't mean that the community has to accept those changes quietly. Especially when that private organization has essentially broken a trust with the community.

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