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A schnauzer's legacy

Maddie's Fund works to end the euthanasia of healthy and treatable shelter pets

From Animal Sheltering magazine July/August 2014

Software developer Dave Duffield—shown here visiting with a pair of dachshunds—drew inspiration from his late schnauzer to co-found the grant-making powerhouse Maddie’s Fund to aid future generations of animals. Maddie’s Fund founder Dave Duffield, left, and president Rich Avanzino guide an organization that concentrates on grant giving, hands-on care, research and education as it strives to create a nation where healthy and treatable animals are no longer euthanized. Maddie’s Fund president Rich Avanzino believes the organization’s goal of eliminating unnecessary euthanasia is within reach.

Back in the late-1980s, when Dave Duffield was relatively poor and uncertain about the prospects for PeopleSoft, a software firm he had founded, he always had a comforting friend in his miniature schnauzer, Maddie. Duffield and his wife Cheryl vowed that if they became wealthy, they’d repay Maddie for her love and companionship during difficult times by trying to help future generations of pets.

The business prospered, and the Duffields established a family foundation in 1994 that became Maddie’s Fund in 1999, a few years after Maddie’s death.

For those who’ve been in the animal welfare field for a while, Maddie’s Fund likely needs no introduction. Boosted by a $300 million endowment from the Duffields, the foundation works to create a nation where no healthy or treatable pets are euthanized. The organization provides grants to animal welfare groups and veterinary hospitals, researches best practices in animal care and sheltering and supports shelter medicine programs at vet schools around the country.

In fiscal 2011-’12, Maddie’s Fund distributed nearly $12 million in grants, funding more than 26,000 spay/neuter surgeries and helping find homes for more than 51,000 dogs and cats. Among its many collaborations, Maddie’s Fund has teamed with The HSUS and the Ad Council on the Shelter Pet Project, a series of public service advertisements that promotes the adoption of shelter dogs and cats. The project’s website has attracted more than 4 million visitors, and its YouTube videos have generated more than 2 million views.

Maddie’s Fund officials believe their goal of achieving a “no-kill nation” by 2015 is well within reach, given a number of nationwide trends: Shelter intake and euthanasia rates are down, adoptions are up, foundation money for animal welfare is becoming more plentiful and the number of trained shelter medicine specialists is rising (thanks to the establishment of shelter medicine programs at 24 of the nation’s 28 veterinary schools). In addition, a growing number of communities have successfully adopted a no-kill philosophy, and polling shows that the public supports the idea.

Given Duffield’s business background (he’s currently CEO and chief consumer advocate for Workday, a business services firm he founded in 2005), it’s no surprise that Maddie’s Fund insists that its grantees produce measurable results. And Rich Avanzino, hired in 1999 as the first Maddie’s Fund president, is uniquely qualified to help the organization reach its no-kill goal: He headed the San Francisco SPCA for 22 years, drastically lowering its euthanasia rate and developing adoption, spay/neuter and other programs that became national models.

In this edited joint interview, Duffield and Avanzino discuss Maddie’s Fund’s strategies and accomplishments with Animal Sheltering associate editor James Hettinger.

Animal Sheltering: When you launched Maddie’s Fund, how much did you know about pet homelessness and the challenges facing shelters and rescues in the U.S.?

Dave Duffield: Not a great deal. We only knew that our Maddie had been such an important part of our lives, so we wanted to honor her. When we were thinking about ways to do that, [former Major League Baseball manager] Tony and Elaine La Russa founded their Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, Calif., and we were inspired by the story behind their foundation, their compassion for dogs and cats and the lack of no-kill shelters in the Bay Area. Wanting to give back to Maddie and her kind is what inspired the creation of Maddie’s Fund.

How have you applied your experience as a software developer and business owner to the challenges facing pets?

Duffield: This comes back to our venture philanthropy approach to running Maddie’s Fund. A large part of this philosophy is working with our grantees to put business plans in place, to create programs that have measurable results and to support multiyear programs that require collaboration versus just operating expenses, for example. In any business, investors (including venture capitalists) would require this of any company they support. Additionally, I’m a big believer in an organization needing a mission, core values and goals to support the mission. I believe the mission we came up with for Maddie’s Fund—to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals—is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

We saw an earlier interview where you quoted hockey great Wayne Gretzky about the importance of knowing where the puck is going to be. Can you tell us about a time when you did the equivalent of that in your work with Maddie’s?

Duffield: Rich Avanzino has always had his eye on the future with regards to Maddie’s programs and goals, not just the hot issues of today. His visions extend far beyond grant giving, so we’ve invested heavily in Maddie’s Institute, our educational resource for the animal welfare community. We’re also planning to step up our support of research and other long-term programs that could have a significant impact on not just achieving a no-kill nation by 2015, but by sustaining that status forever.

You’re optimistic about getting to no-kill by 2015?

Rich Avanzino: Absolutely, I think our prospects are excellent. Just before I came into the animal welfare field, the country was killing about 24 million dogs and cats a year, and we got that number to somewhere around 3 million dogs and cats per year. From our calculations, we have 2.7 million dogs and cats to save to create a no-kill nation. From the surveys we’ve done, 17 million people are going to get a pet this year, and haven’t decided where they’re going to acquire it from. If we can convince 2.7 million of those to get a companion animal from a shelter or a rescue, we will have achieved our goal, which is an adoption guarantee for the healthy and treatable animals of America.

Why is it important for the movement to work at the community level as well as the state and national levels?

Avanzino: We think it’s not about a single organization or a single leader; it’s really about the community working together. And when you bash and trash others’ efforts, it takes away the public’s attention from really helping and getting the job done. My perspective is that constantly bashing and trashing is very counterproductive and very ill conceived. I think in animal welfare, we have meager resources, and we just can’t afford to throw them away on attacking each other. They should be focused, concentrated and committed to doing the work that our contributors and the politicians and the public want from us, and that is to save animal lives.

The reality is that we’re in a very emotional environment. Companion animals are near and dear to us, and different folks have different ideas and different paths and different methodologies. Many times people think, “Well, if you don’t follow my methodology, then your methodology is wrong. If you’re not part of my religion, then we’re gonna beat you up until you become part of our religion.” That’s not an approach we think is most beneficial and productive.

What would you list as Maddie’s Fund’s greatest accomplishments over the past 15 years? And what have been the biggest disappointments or setbacks?

Duffield: Personally, I’m very proud of what Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days has accomplished. Last year alone, we supported the placement of 8,432 dogs and cats in just two days. In the previous three years, we underwrote the placement of 6,722 dogs and cats. This year, we hope to help place another 10,000. That’s a lot of lives saved.

I don’t have any real disappointments with Maddie’s Fund. Sure, we’ve tried different programs or models that may not have given us the results we expected, but we’ve learned from these and have moved forward wiser and more enlightened.

Avanzino: We’re getting to our goal, which at the time we announced it was considered a pipe dream. It was considered impractical; it was considered impossible. And I don’t think anybody now considers a no-kill nation out of reach. There is a disagreement as to how fast we can get there, and when we will be able to plant the flag and say we’ve been successful. But everybody agrees that we don’t want to kill our companion animals who are healthy and treatable, and that we should be focusing our efforts on lifesaving solutions.

How would you say the Maddie’s approach or focus has evolved over the years?

Avanzino: We were very lucky to have the phenomenal generosity of the Duffields with the $300 million kitty. We’ve invested that in shelter medicine and community collaborative efforts with animal organizations working together to end the killing of our best friends, and also in the promotion of transparency and accountability.

The first step in that direction was really the Asilomar Accords, which were brought about because The HSUS saw the merit in working out our differences in a collaborative environment. We developed the Asilomar Accords statistics table [which helps shelters track their intake and live-release rate], and from that the comparative database that’s on our website. Now there’s a new effort afoot to build a national database, using lessons learned from the initial Asilomar approach to basically expand the statistics gathering in a far greater degree.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to ending the euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets in the U.S.? Avanzino: I think embracing that it can be done, and it will be done, and that we can’t waste any more time. I really believe it’s an attitude change. I believe for too long we’ve lived with the belief there’s too many animals, not enough homes. The reality is we are the instruments of saving or ending companion animal lives. It’s challenging as to why so many animals are coming into our system, but it’s not the public’s fault. It’s our job to basically see that they go home to somebody that will love them for a lifetime. We have to be committed to their survival and their placement with people that will care and nurture and love them as they deserve.

Would you like to share any stories about any pets you’ve had since Maddie, and how they’ve guided or inspired your work?

Duffield: A number of years ago, we adopted a Havanese we named Riley. I just had a gut feeling that he was born in a puppy mill—I don’t really know why I thought that. But it made me want to learn more. Consequently, Riley inspired us to “go big” in cracking down on puppy mills. Maddie’s Fund has partnered with The HSUS to help wipe out puppy mills, and I’m always impressed with HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle and his leadership, so this is an area we plan to invest in. We’ve just recently partnered with The HSUS to create a new Puppy Mills Online Action Campaign to reduce the number of dogs in mills, drive consumers to better sources for dogs and secure stronger protections and improved standards for dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations. So we’re off to a good start.

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