Pet projects - Page 5

Pet Projects: Can the San Francisco SPCA overcome recent setbacks and regain its position as a leader in the national no-kill movement?
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They're not willing to be forthright, because they're afraid. I'm a lawyer, so anybody who wants to sue me, good luck. But the truth is the truth."

The shelter's problems that started under Sayres continued under his handpicked successor, Daniel Crain. And they reached a zenith in August 2004 when one of the SPCA's leading veterinarians, Jeffrey Proulx, committed suicide in horrific fashion, delivering a psychic blow to longtime SPCA volunteers and staffers.

The morning Proulx was discovered, a Marin County coroner found an empty box of Nembutal injectable solution on the kitchen counter of his San Rafael home. Nembutal is a barbiturate used in physician-assisted suicides, but it's also used to euthanize animals, and a bottle of it was missing from the shelter's medicine cabinet the day Proulx died.

Proulx was the hospital's chief of staff and was overseeing the expansion project. The task was apparently wearing him down, and on the day of his death, he threatened to resign.

Groundbreaking was supposed to occur in 2004. Then 2005. Then 2006. In the meantime, a private animal hospital providing 24-hour emergency care — San Francisco Veterinary Specialists — moved into the neighborhood, just blocks away, casting doubt on whether the facility's service load could justify the project.

After Proulx's death, the SPCA announced that it had chosen another architectural firm to take charge of the hospital: Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates. By then the organization had spent nearly $4 million on veterinary consultants and architects, according to tax records, and even today hardly a single wall has been erected.

A previous architecture firm, ARQ Architects, which designed the shelter's adoption center, has earned more than $2 million from the SPCA since 2000, but there's no telling what happened to any of the designs the firm crafted. Nonetheless, according to the shelter's newest tax records, provided at the Guardian's request, Rauhaus was paid more than $500,000 last year, and another $330,000 went to a project manager, CMA. A new veterinary consultant was paid $90,000 last year as well, after a previous consultant, Massachusetts-based VHC, was paid at least $925,000 over a three-year period.

After Proulx died, Crain lasted just two more years as president. He left last August, and attempts to reach him at various phone numbers, a fax number, and a last-known San Francisco address in Bernal Heights were unsuccessful.

Crain joined the shelter in 1999 as a human resources director but quickly — despite little evidence of nonprofit management experience and only a brief stint running human resources — became the SPCA's vice president under Sayres, earning well into six figures. In 2003, after Sayres's departure, he became the SPCA's top administrator following a board vote, which brought his compensation to more than $200,000 a year.

Ken White, director of the Peninsula Humane Society, said he never forged the bond with Crain that he did with the leadership of Marin County's municipal shelter and its major East Bay animal welfare counterpart. White worked for nearly a decade at the SPCA, until 1989, when San Francisco created the separate animal-control entity that exists today.

Although reluctant to speak critically about the SPCA, White explained that the Peninsula shelter treats about 1,000 injured wildlife animals from San Francisco annually under a very modest contract with the city that's nowhere near enough to cover his costs.

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