$200-Million Mission Aims to End Killing of Unwanted Animals

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For the love of a dog, one man helped a city transform the way it treats abandoned pets. For the love of a dog, another man is providing $200 million to try to transform a nation.

Sido, an 11-year-old Sheltie mix, proved to Richard Avanzino that the city of San Francisco loved companion animals enough to save them from euthanasia.

Maddie, a miniature schnauzer, loved Dave Duffield so much that he vowed to aim his philanthropy toward helping animals.


Now the men are bringing together Avanzino’s enthusiasm and Duffield’s money to work toward a goal summarized in a term: no-kill. What it means is that by 2010 every adoptable dog and cat in America’s animal shelters and pounds would be guaranteed a loving home.

In a nation where about 4.85 million dogs and cats are euthanized annually, it’s a tall order.

“We are capital venturists who say we will invest . . . to save animal lives with the understanding that the return on our investment has to be measured in the reduction of animals killed on a quarterly basis,” Avanzino says. “We’re not here to enrich stockbrokers; we’re not here for a quarterly profit. Our goal is that every healthy animal has a loving home.”

Sido came into Avanzino’s life in 1979, three years after Avanzino took over as head of the San Francisco SPCA. Her owner, who killed herself, stated in her will that Sido should be euthanized and buried beside her.

Sido went to the SPCA to live her last days, but when a lawyer showed up to take her away, the SPCA refused to turn her over. Lawyers, judges, legislators, even Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. got involved. Avanzino took her home to live with him and his wife while the legal war raged. Ultimately, her life was spared.

“We were best friends for five wonderful years, and we were never apart,” Avanzino says of the dog who went to work with him every day. “She was a wonderful goodwill ambassador for animals in need.”


Maddie came into Duffield’s life in the early 1980s, lean years when he and his wife, Cheryl, were living in a condo in Walnut Creek.

“She got to be a very good friend during some really rough times we were going through at the company,” Duffield says of Maddie, who died of cancer in March 1997. “I promised her that if I ever had enough money, I would return it to her and her kind.”

Through PeopleSoft, his $5.5-billion computer software empire founded in Pleasanton, Calif., he now has that money.

He pledged the $200 million and said it was just the beginning. Duffield, 58, has eight children. But he said his will provides that most of his wealth--”we’re talking the b-word”--goes to the Duffield Family Foundation.

Duffield’s first donation to the San Francisco SPCA came in 1994, when he gave $500,000, followed by $1 million for Maddie’s Adoption Center, a new wing at the SPCA. He says he has contributed to 30 to 40 animal protection groups and, in 1997, he donated $20 million to the engineering school at Cornell University, his alma mater.

Avanzino took over Jan. 1 as head of Duffield’s foundation and has 11 years to achieve his no-kill goal--city by city, state by state.


His plan for the Duffield money is threefold: spaying and neutering; finding each adoptable animal a home through several means, including better marketing of shelter animals; and helping owners keep their pets under unforeseen circumstances, such as illness or a move.

“Avanzino’s got the results to show he knows what he’s doing,” says Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People, a 15,000-circulation monthly newspaper based in Clinton, Wash.

The Duffield money is equal to that of about 15 foundations that donate to animal groups nationally, Clifton says. Most of those foundations are aligned with a more traditional approach that combines animal control and humane societies and tends to give money for new buildings rather than to revamp programs, he says.

“We’ve seen the pluses and minuses of the conventional approach,” Clifton says. “We’ve not seen what happens if we try to do it Richard’s way. So . . . let’s see.”

Avanzino arrived at the San Francisco SPCA in 1976 after investigations revealed high-volume killing of dogs and cats.

He ended the SPCA’s animal control contract with the city. The SPCA also began off-site adoptions; programs to provide dogs to the hearing-impaired and to help senior citizens and the homeless keep their pets; behavioral counseling and training; neutering feral cats for free; and later, paying people to bring in feral cats for fixing. It also helped homeless people keep their animals by providing health care, tags, leashes and grooming.


His work has brought praise, criticism and some hurt feelings from those who run shelters where adoptable animals are euthanized because of a lack of space.

Much of the criticism centers on semantics. What is an adoptable animal? Who decides? California lawmakers approved a bill that defines adoptable and treatable animals, using definitions similar to those at the San Francisco SPCA.

But $200 million in walking-around money can turn skeptics into optimists, if not believers. Roger Caras, head of the ASPCA in New York City, last year called no-kill “more hoax than fact.”

ASPCA spokesman Peter Paris says Avanzino may have a chance.

“Will we get to the point where the overwhelming majority of adoptable animals won’t have to be killed because of a lack of cage space? We hope so,” Paris says. “And with $200 million behind him, we hope Rich Avanzino can find the answer.”

And that’s the plan, Avanzino says. Not every proposal for funding with the Duffield money need mirror San Francisco’s program, but the results must come quickly.

Avanzino says he and Duffield basically are saying to each group: “You design the framework, you design the programs. But we will hold you accountable for the results. You have to reduce the number of animal deaths to zero in . . . three to five years.”


Some of the first money will go to Contra Costa County, where Avanzino estimates that $400,000 is already spent annually on sheltering dogs and cats. If all goes as planned, animal-rescue groups there will get about $3 million over five years to work toward their no-kill goal. At the end of five years, they will get $1 million if they have met the goal.

Top priority for grant money will go to proposals that involve cooperation among traditional shelters, animal control agencies, volunteer rescue groups and veterinarian groups, Avanzino says.

With $200 million, “we can save the world,” he says. “And we’re going to start off by helping pets in need.”