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Ask Anything: 10 questions with SPCA chief Hope Hancock


Ask Anything: 10 questions with SPCA chief Hope Hancock

Posted: May. 26, 2009

Could you please tell us more on the spay/neuter clinic that is now available? Is it open to anyone who needs to have a pet spayed/neutered? Are there any limitations regarding income? –

Patricia, I am very proud to say that the Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic is open to anyone, anywhere, regardless of income or residency. The prices for surgery are $30 for male cats, $35 for female cats, $40 for male dogs and $45 for female dogs.

This is not a limited offer, this is an important new community program offered by the SPCA to help the public and the pets they own. It is only through SPCA donors that this clinic is able to exist.

In both national and local surveys, the cost of spay/neuter surgery is consistently listed as the main reason why people choose not to alter their pets. The uncontrolled breeding of owned pets and stray and abandoned animals creates an enormous number of unwanted animals that are killed by the thousands each year in North Carolina animal shelters. By providing spay/neuter surgeries at a low cost, this veterinary clinic will help pet owners who are unable to afford the spay/neuter surgery.

This clinic is the single most important weapon in the SPCA’s fight to end the euthanasia of adoptable animals in our community. We rely on donor contributions to make it possible to provide this important, on-going service. To help support this SPCA initiative, anyone can give a gift at www.spcawake.org/fix.

I applaud the work you do, but wanted to know if your business is to save and help animals, why should any of them have to be euthanized except for medical purposes? I understand there is a financial issue and no room, etc., but then making room for them should be done. –

Tiffany, this is a great question and addresses the heart of the SPCA’s mission and the heart of the challenges we face. Our mission is to end the euthanasia of adoptable animals in our community. Our challenge is this is not something the SPCA can do alone. It takes a community.

We could end euthanasia at the SPCA tomorrow if we simply stopped taking in all the animals that come to us and just took in the ones we could make room for. But that would mean even more animals would be euthanized at the government-run Wake County Animal Shelter, or another area shelters and it would mean more animals would die inhumane deaths on the sides of roads and in back yards from the people who the SPCA turned away. (We do have people threaten to harm animals if we don’t take them.)

Warehousing thousands of animals that come through our doors can’t be the answer either. To stop euthanizing adoptable animals in our community, we have to solve the root of the problem. To solve the problem we have to understand the causes of pet overpopulation. It all comes down to a simple economics lesson: supply and demand.

The number of animals coming into the sheltering system (supply) is far greater than the number of available homes to which these pets can go (demand). In fact, the number of incoming pets is so large that for every animal born in North Carolina to have a home, each person would have to own two dogs and three cats; a family of four would have to own eight dogs and 12 cats.

Giving a home to all the pets who need one is not a realistic solution. We certainly can’t – and wouldn’t want to – force people to own pets. The only alternative is to decrease the number of animals coming into the sheltering system. This means not only decreasing the number of animals that come to the SPCA’s shelters but decreasing the animals going to all the shelters in our community and region.

Where are all these animals coming from? The uncontrolled breeding of owned pets and stray and abandoned animals creates this enormous number of unwanted animals. Euthanasia has been the traditional way to deal with the overwhelming supply of dogs and cats. Pet overpopulation is the leading cause of death for companion animals in North Carolina. Nothing else – not disease or cars or cancer – kills more pets than the use of euthanasia as a means of decreasing the pet population. This includes dogs and cats of all ages and breeds.

How did we get to a place where this was OK? How can we as residents of a community be okay with treating living creatures as disposable items? It took the community to create this problem and this methodology of dealing with animals – it’s going to take a community to solve the problem.

The SPCA saves more than 3,000 animals each year. To save them all, we need residents and community leaders to engage in the idea and the practice of prevention. We need restrictions that limit the currently uncontrolled breeding that people allow their animals to do. We need even the people who don’t care about animals to care about the impact pet overpopulation has on their wallets; it costs Wake County tax payers more than $2 million each year to round up shelter and euthanize these animals. We need a fraction of this money to go towards preventative measures in order to decrease the number of unwanted animals in our community.

The SPCA has committed and continues to commit our private resources to the new Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic that provides spay/neuter surgery at a very low cost (see question No. 1) so people can easily be a part of the solution and have their animal sterilized. This clinic is the foundation of our plan to end the euthanasia of adoptable animals in this community. Our research tells us that after four years of aggressively fixing up to 5,000 dogs and cats per year, we will see a dramatic reduction of animals coming into area animal shelters.

Tiffany you are absolutely correct in that it is our business to save and help animals. That’s why we are relentlessly working on this long-term solution. Clearly, you have already embraced the idea that our community needs to fundamentally change the way we address the problem of pet overpopulation. My challenge to you, and everyone reading this, is to go out and find five people you can engage in this issue. United, we can make a difference; by ourselves we will never have room for them all.

I was wondering if someone is interested in adopting a particular breed of animal, could they put a request in to the SPCA to be notified if this certain animal comes into the SPCA? Thanks! –

Yes! We have a great program called the wish book. It’s a waiting list for whatever type of animal you are looking for. This is the first place we turn when a specific breed (cat/dog/rabbit) comes into the SPCA. (We also work with breed rescue groups.)

Let’s say you are looking for a Pekingese dog. Come on down to the SPCA anytime, fill out an adoption application and speak with an adoption counselor. When the next Pekingese dog comes in, we flip to the next person on the list in the wish book, call that person and give them the first opportunity to meet that animal. (Being next on the call list does not obligate you to adopt that specific animal.)

The wish book also helps the SPCA move animals through our shelter faster (and make room for more animals). These pets fitting wish book descriptions are often sent directly home to their new family – bypassing the adoption center altogether so that space can be given to another animal.

Why is it that SPCA is picky about who they adopt animals to? I know Bob & the Showgram (a morning radio show) was denied. I was denied and a few of my friends were denied. I figured with the economical crunch that there would still be a guideline, but not having a fenced-in yard along with other slight reasons would not be an automatic denial. I was just curious about that. –

We try our best to make the best matches between people and a new pet. We regret when this doesn't work for one reason or another. We truly hope that people who don’t adopt from us walk out of our shelter and to another shelter or rescue group and adopt a homeless animal.

Why is the fee for adoption as high as it is? I understand that the animals have had their shots and have been "fixed," but a good loving family may really want to adopt an animal but can not because of the price up front? Thank you from an animal lover of three dogs and one cat. –

Hi Becky, I’m glad you asked this question because, as an animal lover, I think you’ll appreciate this lengthy answer because it goes beyond the need to cover part of the cost of what we put into the pet.

But let’s do get that out of the way first because these are very important points. The SPCA invests hundreds of dollars in each animal and we do count on the revenues from our adoption fees as a vital part of the SPCA’s funding and our ability to continue to offer our services.

In addition, all the medical care we provide each pet with is essential to the pet’s health and would be needed regardless of where the pet is obtained from. So, the adoption fee of $95 for cats and $115 for dogs is a *steal* when you look at what it would really cost to provide all that veterinary care to an animal.

But I think you are asking a more sophisticated question – If the SPCA can absorb $250 worth of medical care for an animal, why can’t the SPCA absorb even more of the cost to adopt and therefore lower the adoption fees to say $20?

The adoption fees are chosen strategically. As was mentioned in question No. 2, the SPCA is in the business of saving lives and in part, that means being smart in the marketing of our shelter animals.

We do not price our adoption fees higher than other area shelters and rescue groups. We also do not want to price ourselves considerably lower than other rescued animals. If a “product” is priced significantly lower than its market competition, the lower-priced product is perceived as inferior.

Studies show us that the misperception that shelter pets are inferior or second hand is one of the biggest influences on someone’s decision purchase a pet shop pet instead of adopting a rescued pet. In fact, we’ve seen adoption groups across the country raising the adoption fees of some rescued pets higher and having greater adoption success because of the perceived worth of that higher-priced shelter pet.

And finally, there is a psychology that you get what you pay for. These animals have inherent value; therefore we charge something for them. That being said, we do have many discounts available. Seniors receive a $10-$50 discount on each adoption. You can adopt two animals and get a 15 percent discount. Also, we offer many “limited time reduced fee” adoption promotions in order to generate interest in times of intense overcrowding at the shelter.

For example, in early July we will reduce the adoption fee for kittens by 50 percent because we absolutely have to adopt them out to make room for incoming kittens we know we will have. So we use dramatic adoption fee discounts as an incentive to get people to adopt during a certain time frame when we have to get animals out of the shelter.

We aren’t pressed for space like this all the time, so the limited time adoption reduction is a great motivator for people to adopt when we most need them to.

Where does the SPCA get its funding? –

All our pro-active programs are 100 percent supported by tax-deductible gifts from individual donors. The SPCA is not a government organization and we receive no funding from national animal organizations such as the ASPCA or the HSUS. We apply for grants from private foundations and count on market investments (although not so much this past year.)

We have revenue sources from our adoption fees, sales of T-shirts and other items in our retail store. We also have sheltering contracts with the city of Raleigh and the town of Cary. So we perform an impound function (shelter animals picked up or confiscated by law enforcement) for a fee to these two municipalities. Raleigh and Cary pay the SPCA a per animal fee for animals sheltered. However, these contracts are scheduled to end in July of 2010. This per animal fee makes up only 12 percent of the SPCA’s total revenue.

I am very proud of the donor support that made the Saving Lives Spay/Neuter Animal Clinic (an SPCA initiative) possible. The clinic building and equipment are funded 100 percent through private donations. This clinic will save tens of thousands of animal lives, as well as the hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars which are currently used each year to round up, shelter and euthanize these animals.

What I’d really like to tell you about is the national recognition the SPCA has received on how well we use these private donations. The measure of a responsible and effective nonprofit organization can be seen in what percentage the business spends on programs and fundraising. The SPCA spends 82 cents of every dollar on programs and services. Only 6.4 cents of every dollar goes to fundraising. This spending ratio puts the SPCA in the top rating of responsible nonprofit spending.

We are pleased to report that for the second year in a row Charity Navigator, the leading charity watchdog group, awarded four out of a possible four stars to the SPCA of Wake County, Inc. The SPCA is one of only a handful of animal related charities in the state to receive this top rating.

Tax returns of non-profits are public information. For the Charity Navigator report and additional information about SPCA of Wake County finances, visit www.charitynavigator.org, search words “SPCA of Wake County.”

The SPCA was founded in Raleigh to help the people and pets of the greater Raleigh/Wake County area. All the work we do is made possible by this community of people who care about animals.


My son has wanted a dog for four years now. He actually goes to your site and prints off one or five of the dogs every month. Up to this point, my wife and I have said no due to us not having a fence. Do you have any suggestions whether it is feasible to have an "indoor" dog? I hate disappointing him every month. Thanks. –

Mike, I have excellent news for you and your son. I consulted our staff Behavior Specialist Molly Stone for an extra expert opinion. Here’s what the SPCA behavior expert says:

“Indeed it’s possible to have a healthy, happy indoor dog. In fact, it’s the way most dogs prefer to live. Because they are such social animals, dogs can actually feel lonely, punished, and isolated if they live outdoors and their families live inside. These feelings of isolation frequently lead to behavior problems such as excessive vocalization, escaping, and destructiveness. A dog that lives inside with its family is usually happier and healthier and less likely to develop similar behavioral issues.

Naturally, all dogs need outside time and exercise, and a fenced yard is one good way to provide that for them, but there are other great ways as well, and we have many adoptees who are living happily in homes without fenced yards. Durham, Raleigh, and Cary all have off-leash Dog Parks where dogs can run and play with each other. Leash walks, or leashed jogs, around the neighborhood a couple of times a day are good too. Dogs also enjoy going for car rides to hiking trails and other walking opportunities that are a little more novel than their own neighborhoods. Lots of people set up 'play dates' with their friends’ dogs so that their need for social interaction is met.

Having a happy dog and being a great owner both have more to do with your level of commitment than whether or not your yard’s got a fence around it.â€

I think you and your family might really enjoy having a canine companion share your living space (I know I do). Please accept my invitation to come down to the SPCA’s adoption center and meet some of our great dogs. The adoption center was built to be very child friendly. All the animals live in bedrooms with glass walls so children have no problem being close to all the animals without having the pressure of interacting with them. It’s a fun place to come and enjoy the pets!

Included with each pet adoption from the SPCA are Molly’s professional services at no additional cost. We offer this behavior consulting service because we want to do everything possible to make sure that the pet stays in its home and doesn’t come back to the shelter.

I am a supporter of SPCA of Wake County and a huge animal lover. One of my most favorite breeds are pit bulls. I think they are wonderful, loyal and funny. How does your organization educate the public about this breed, dog fighting, abuse and mistreatment? My vet told me that pit bulls are the most misunderstood and abused breed in the country right now. –

We agree with your vet! I think the single most important thing we do for American Pit Bull Terriers and pit bull terrier mixes is we don't discriminate against them simply because of their breed.

The professional behavior staff at the SPCA evaluates each dog for adoption based on its individual characteristics – not on its breed. If you look at the automatic discrimination some pit bulls face in other communities, it speaks volumes about our public education that we feature them for adoption.

At the time of adoption we provide additional and specific information about pit bull mixes to their new owners. Every breed of dog has characteristics that you have to take into consideration as a pet owner; pit bull terriers are known for their physical strength and therefore may require a greater commitment to training and socialization by the owner.

Too often people choose pit bull terriers as pets merely as status symbols and not as loving companions. At the SPCA, we see the high price these dogs pay for irresponsible owners who have not made the proper commitment to train and socialize their pets.

In late March, the SPCA had to euthanize the two American Pit Bull Terriers that had attacked a 6-year-old boy in Raleigh.

Our community outreach included emphasizing holding the owner accountable for the actions of his pets. We urged people to understand that blaming the dogs would only contribute to the misunderstanding of pit bulls versus understanding the responsibility required to care for them.

We also did something really important for the dozens of children psychologically impacted by the fear of dogs after their classmate was attacked. Our humane educator and senior behavior staff members were invited to make a presentation to all the first-graders at the boy’s school.

We went in to answer their many questions, to help teach them about dog bite safety and to introduce them to a very special guest that we brought into the school – “Wanda.†Wanda is an SPCA adopted pit bull mix and certified therapy dog owned by one of our staff members. Wanda the pit bull provided much needed therapeutic contact and helped the children not be paralyzed by an unrealistic fear of dogs.

Wanda and our pit bull education presentation to the school is a featured article in our upcoming June Critter Chatter Magazine – and I’d love to send you a copy of it. To get on our mailing list simply email your name and address to rhollander@spcawake.org.

Another great example of how we are addressing your question is our rehabilitation program for “Hope†the pit bull rescued from dog fighters. You can read about her journey at www.spcawake.org/hope. She’ll be available for adoption in late May or early June!

I want to thank you, Hope, for the work that the SPCA organization, paid staffers and volunteers do – such dedication and compassion. I did my first SPCA Dog Walk in April and will certainly be a repeater from now on. Would you know the reason why Wake County Animal Control personnel do not carry scanners on their vehicles to scan for microchipped animals quickly? –

Laurie – thank YOU! As I mentioned in question No. 6 – everything we are able to do for these animals is because of people like you who believe this community can do better for homeless pets.

Unfortunately, I cannot directly answer your question, but it does bring up perhaps the most common confusion about the private, nonprofit Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Wake County. The animal control and sheltering system in this county is confusing!

There are three animal shelters that serve all of Wake County. The private, nonprofit SPCA owns and operates two of them – one in Garner off Highway 70 and one in Raleigh off Petfinder Lane near the intersection of S. Wilmington Street and Tryon Road. The government-operated Wake County Animal Shelter is located off Beacon Lake Drive in Raleigh.

Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Holly Springs have their own Animal Control officers who are part of the respective police departments of those municipalities. If you live inside these areas and need Animal Control, here are the separate contact numbers:

Cary Animal Control: 919-319-4517
Garner Animal Control: 919-772-8810 or 911
Holly Springs Animal Control: 919-557-9111
Raleigh Animal Control: 919-831-6311
If you live outside the above areas but inside Wake County, you contact Wake County Animal Control: 919-856-6911.

Although the SPCA currently has sheltering agreements with Raleigh and Cary, the SPCA is completely separate from the animal control officers of local government departments. Part of the outreach the SPCA has done with the local government agencies dealing with animal control has been emphasizing the importance of returning pets to their homes before bringing them to an animal shelter.

Progressive communities whose animal control departments offer “a free ride home†to any pet wearing, or implanted with, identification have lower euthanasia rates. The transport back to the animal’s home alleviates overcrowding at shelters and ultimately saves tax dollars as well.

I think the Town of Cary does a fine job with this. To some degree, I know their officers will return pets home without ever having to come to the SPCA’s animal shelter. Carrying scanners in animal control vehicles is not only a life-saving measure, it’s a great community service and an incentive for owners to keep identification on their pets at all times.

The good thing about paying taxes is that you have a voice in how government programs work. If you think something can be improved upon, contact your elected officials and have five of your neighbors contact them as well. For a guide on being a local advocate for animals, visit our comprehensive Citizen Advocate Center at www.spcawake.org/watchdogs. Your voice is more powerful than you can imagine.

I saw in the Charlotte Observer some time ago that their SPCA allowed a "Puppy Party" ... a 10-year-old boy to come and have a birthday party picnic just outside of the building and play with the SPCA's pets for about an hour. The guests all brought bags of dog/cat food in lieu of birthday gifts, and I think they got a number of parents volunteering after this, too. I mentioned this to my son (turning 6 this year) and he wants to know if our SPCA does this too because he's more than willing to help a good cause with his special day. –

We have had several very fun “Puppy Parties†here at the SPCA! We currently are experimenting with the best way to offer these simply because the demand far outweighs our ability to host the parties. In the near future our plans do include raffling off a limited number of parties.

Until we are able to hold our puppy party raffle, our recommendation is for birthday parties to come and tour the Adoption Center, during which there are supervised visits with a couple of animals, and then continue the festivities (cake, games, etc.) at another location. There is a Raleigh City Park within a mile of the Adoption Center with picnic areas and a playground.

Some birthday groups decide to do a pet-themed party at home. We can provide some colorful handouts that can be used as favors for the kids. There are a bunch of activity ideas that can be used for parties as part of our FUNdraising Guide for Kids at www.spcawake.org/education.

For additional information, you can contact our Humane Educator, Vanessa Budnick, at 919-532-2087 or vbudnick@spcawake.org.