Previously at odds with the SPCA's for-profit scheme, the private vets will now donate certain specialty services that the SPCA isn't able to cover under its current plans. Dr. Alan Stewart, a founder of SFVS, told us they've already helped several animals.
Construction on the Roberts Center is slated to begin in October. McHugh-Smith promises the new plan will enable San Francisco to expand its definition of a treatable homeless animal by expanding the range of treatment the city can administer. Now the $32 million will go toward simply renovating a massive warehouse on the shelter's campus and giving its current facility another 40,000 square feet of space. The feral cat project, which today operates out of a former lobby, will get its own designated area, and McHugh-Smith says the shelter will also act as a university hospital where veterinary students can learn to treat the approximately 25,000 animals that pass through annually.
McHugh-Smith, the shelter's first female president, has worked in animal welfare for more than two decades. She spent 12 years as CEO of the humane society in Boulder, Colo., and built that city's live-release rate up to 86 percent.
Because of the Bay Area's supercharged political tendencies, she faces constant and varying obstacles. Wildlife supporters loathe the SPCA's long history of backing feral cat populations and off-leash dogs on federal parkland such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Even the phrase "animal welfare" is politically loaded it's often used specifically to separate pet lovers and the wealthy benefactors of big nonprofit shelters from "animal rights" factions perceived as too radical. Plus, there's the fact that higher save rates translate into greater challenges in dealing with the final 20 or 30 percent of animals, which can require treatment before being adoptable.
"The higher you get, the more difficult it gets, and the more resources you need," McHugh-Smith said of the city's save rate. "Hence, the hospital is going to be a really critical part of that."
Avanzino says San Francisco could still do a much better job presenting records to the public of which animals are killed and why. Are hyperthyroid or feral cats untreatable? Are otherwise healthy pit bulls made "unhealthy" merely by irresponsible owners? For years, transparency in terms of what constitutes a treatable or healthy animal has been a major tenet Avanzino has advocated.
"If we're really going to empower the public to be part of the solution and see that the job gets done, we've got to give them the data," he told us. "Are the dogs and cats that we call family members getting justice from us? If not, then we have failed them, and in San Francisco that should never happen. It's the city of St. Francis." *