Celebrity Interviews

Tattle Tails with Rich Avanzino

Maddie’s Fund president Rich Avanzino tells us about the Northern California-based organization’s vision of a no-kill nation

By Jason A. Heidemann

Tails: Describe Maddie’s Fund.
Rich Avanzino:
Our mission is to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals. We hope to fund the creation of a no-kill nation, a country that guarantees all of its shelter dogs and cats that are healthy and treatable a loving home. We do that through an approach called venture philanthropy. We invest in community collaborations involving all animal groups working together to basically achieve the objective of saving the healthy and treatable pets. We give millions of dollars over a seven-year period to achieve a ten-year goal, and there are quantifiable benchmarks that have to be achieved for funding to continue the project to the ultimate conclusion.

Tails: You’ve had tremendous success in helping San Francisco become a no-kill city.
Tell us about that.

RA: We had a collaboration [with local organizations] and the essence of it was to take the animals from the shelters that could not save them and try to either rehome them or find somebody else to fall in love with them. By working together we were able to achieve the lowest euthanization rate of any municipality in the country.

Tails: You were with the SF/SPCA for more than 20 years. How did your work there prepare you for Maddie’s Fund?
Benefactors wanted to have the success of San Francisco shared across the nation so that all dogs and cats would have loving homes and simultaneously build the infrastructure of the nonprofit animal-welfare community so that they could do their good works more effectively and accomplish even better results for the animals of our nation. I’ve been able to bring some of that experience to Maddie’s Fund and plant the seeds that will generate the outcome that we’re investing in. We’re creating model communities, we’re investing in shelter medicine, we are building leadership abilities throughout the country that will enhance and more effectively utilize the meager resources that are in hand so that the shelters can do an even better job and get to this goal. We’re confident that we can create this no-kill nation before the year 2015.

Tails: How many communities has Maddie’s Fund reached over the years?
I’d say about 5,000 cities throughout the United States at this point in time. We’ve been in existence since 1999 and have given away about $53 million so far. We have another $30 million already committed to existing projects that we hope to continue helping while they achieve their goals.

Tails: In the 30 years that you’ve been working within this field, how have you seen attitudes in animal welfare change?
There’s a night and day difference. Generally speaking, people who had pets 30 years ago thought of them as property and today the overwhelming majority consider them family members. I think many of the animal shelters in the country today are still stuck in the model of four decades ago where they’re processing centers rather than rehoming agencies. The public is way ahead of this and it’s very gratifying that they are understanding that these four-legged creatures that are so important in our lives are as critical to us as other family members.

Tails: What words of encouragement can you offer to communities that are looking to initiate a no-kill movement?
The country as a whole is making phenomenal progress. Thirty years ago, about 28 million dogs and cats were being euthanized in our shelters. That number today is somewhere around 5 million. Forty years ago, 122 dogs and cats per thousand human population were being killed in animal shelters. Today that number is around 15. In the leading communities in the nation it’s less than two dogs and cats per thousand. What that says to me is that people in America have come to understand the great importance of having pets as part of our family. Our goal is to help shelters and animal-welfare organizations tap into that enthusiasm and commitment…so that pets get what they deserve, which is high-quality, loving relationships that last a lifetime.

Tails: What are your goals for the organization in 2007?
We want to bring greater attention to the accomplishments of the funded model communities to build their infrastructure even stronger through shelter-medicine programs and adoption-rehabilitation programs that demonstrate what the rescue work is all about, and to basically demonstrate statistically with analytical precision how far we’ve come, where we’re at, and why we can get to our goal by the year 2015. We are putting a lot of focus on demonstrating with objective criteria the successes, the disappointments, and the paths to achieve success by the animal-welfare community.

Tails: What do you see as the best trend in the pet world?
I think the growing awareness that pets are family members. When one takes care of them correctly as you would a family member, they make life precious, they make life dear, they provide a joy that’s unequal and that’s something that we can all appreciate. They can and should bring out the very best in human nature.

For more information, visit www.MaddiesFund.org.

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