Caged and confused

While critics howl, the SPCA of Texas dreams of opening a rural animal utopia. Meanwhile, Dallas kills hundreds of pets every day.

Before embarking on the ambitious capital campaign, Jones says, the SPCA hired a financial consultant to help the agency predict how much money it could raise and where that money was most likely to come from. Not surprisingly, the consultants advised the SPCA to go to the Park Cities, where the act of charity is often carried out at black-tie galas. Unfortunately, Jones says, the donors didn't share the SPCA's vision of the future.

"The people that got involved were from University Park," she says. "To them, the land up north seemed like it was in Oklahoma. They were much more interested in Dallas, [asking] 'How can we help you renovate the shelter there?'"

In addition, the SPCA miscalculated the cost of the project. Because the ongoing construction boom has created a shortage of labor and supplies, the price has escalated well beyond its original $4 million estimate. The costs are increasing so quickly that Jones says she can't begin to guess how much money it would take to finish. If the SPCA is to renew interest in the project, she says, it'll have to change its fund-raising strategy to target a more receptive audience.

SPCA of Texas Executive Director Warren Cox is fending off critics, while his dream of building an animal shelter in Collin County is slowly slipping away.
SPCA of Texas Executive Director Warren Cox is fending off critics, while his dream of building an animal shelter in Collin County is slowly slipping away.
Evidence is growing that the SPCA is troubled by mismanagement. Earlier this year, one dog was stolen while another was sexually abused inside the agency's downtown shelter.
Evidence is growing that the SPCA is troubled by mismanagement. Earlier this year, one dog was stolen while another was sexually abused inside the agency's downtown shelter.

"The dream isn't dead. The dream is very real," Jones says, "but we feel we have to do a better job connecting with the people up there."

The project's largest benefactor, Phoebe Perry, the widow of Russell Perry, after whom the campus is named, says that she is not overly concerned by the project's delay, and that she has more confidence than ever in Cox's management of her "favorite charity." Like Cox, Perry says she is disappointed by the lack of interest in the project -- a scenario she says speaks volumes about the social limitations of Dallas philanthropists.

"You take the opera, you take the symphony, they're always crying for money, and they get money by the carload. We're crying too, but we're not getting the money," Perry says. "I honestly don't know why it is so hard raising funds for animals."

While geography and philosophy may be conspiring to keep donors away, the SPCA's fund-raising strategy itself raises questions about what the agency is trying to accomplish.

When Cox kicked off the campus fund-raising campaign in March 1997, he told the Morning News that if the donations came in slower than expected, the agency would "probably" build the proposed care center first, then construct the new clinic and education center as money came in. At the time, the priorities made sense: Build a sorely needed shelter and expanded clinic, then add on the amenities as the money came in. But that's not what happened.

After two years of hat-passing, all the SPCA has to show for the effort is the Lynn T. and Russell E. Dealey Life Care Cottage, named because of a $270,000 grant the Dealeys gave to the SPCA. (Russell Dealey is the great-grandson of Belo founder George Dealey.) Pet retirement homes are an increasingly popular idea, but the apparent shift in priorities may have more to do with the cottage's role in the SPCA's new fund-raising strategies.

Melanie Lambert is the program director for the Summerlee Foundation, a nonprofit organization that distributes money to animal groups throughout North America. Four years ago, Lambert says, the Summerlee Foundation decided to give the SPCA a grant so it could hire a person who would specialize in planned giving.

"We felt the SPCA wasn't bringing in enough money for an area this big with this many problems," Lambert explains. "We felt they weren't planning for the long term."

As part of the new strategy, the SPCA solicits money from the elderly, offering to take care of their animals after their deaths in exchange for gifts of real estate, life insurance, securities, or cash. The program is attractive to potential donors because they can write the SPCA into their wills, meaning they buy peace of mind now and pay for it later.

In its fund-raising literature, for example, the SPCA tells potential donors that a minimum gift of $10,000 will get their cat or dog placed in a foster home, where it will be given free health care and monitored by the SPCA "Quality Control Department" for life. But a minimum gift of $25,000 will get the animal a lifetime spot inside the Dealey Life Care Cottage, where "all of its needs are met."

While Lambert says she is pleased with the strategy, she concedes that she hasn't been monitoring the program very closely. "They send me reports," Lambert says, "but Warren and I haven't sat down and gone over them in any detail."

Perhaps she should. Cox was at a loss to explain how exactly this pet survivor program works. For example, when asked how the SPCA's "quality control department" monitors animals after they are placed in a foster home in exchange for a $10,000 contribution, Cox said he was unaware that the SPCA was making such promises.

"We don't have a program like that as far as I know," he said. When given a copy of the SPCA's promotional literature, downloaded from its Internet site, Cox's memory returned. He quickly explained that while the SPCA may have taken some contributions as part of the program, none of the pet owners has died yet, so the monitoring program isn't in place.

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