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A miniature schnauzer named Maddie stole the heart of PeopleSoft founder David Duffield and his wife, Cheryl, before the dog died in 1997. Duffield made a promise to Maddie that should they ever become well off, their top priority would be to contribute money to animal causes to repay the love Maddie gave them.
To keep their promise, the Duffields started Maddie's Fund. It has set a goal of a 100 percent no-kill nation by 2015 by increasing the live release rate, or percentage of animals leaving a shelter alive, and promoting community involvement.
The nation's shelters kill 3.7 million dogs and cats, annually. That number must drop to 700,000 to reach the no-kill national goal, according to Maddie's Fund. Rich Avanzino, president of the fund.
According to Maddie's Fund figures, four million pets are adopted nationwide every year, which breaks down to three pets per shelter per day. In order to save the three million-plus pets that are being euthanized, two more pets per shelter per day would have to be adopted, an adoption rate of five pets per shelter per day.
"If, as a group and along with other rescue groups in the area, we can come anywhere near meeting the intent of the spay/neuter programs, the no-kill goal should be easy," said Kay House, director of Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary "It certainly would make everyone happier, and be much healthier for all the animals."
According to Avanzino, Maddie's Fund grants are available to all shelters in the United States as long as the shelters in a community are working together, making progress and have a goal to increase the live release rate.
"I have no idea if the goal is realistic, but it is something to aim for," House said. "The greater Sacramento area has done a terrible job of educating, encouraging and enforcing spay and neuter."
According to Avanzino, without community involvement Maddie's Fund would not be as successful.
"We are working on transparency and accountability," he said. "Public engagement and involvement is key to our success."
Whatever Maddie's Fund does to save animals' lives or what its goal may be, there always will be disagreement about animal shelters, Avanzino said.
"No-kill is just a movement — they are trying to make a point," said Penny Cistaro, manager of Animal Care Services facility. "'Kill' makes it sound like we're taking baseball bats and hitting the animals over the head. We perform euthanasia here."
"The shelters need to do what the loving pet owners do in their community," Avanzino said. " It's not about what the shelter can afford, it's not about what's easy. It's about what a loving pet owner would do for their animal."
Maddie's Fund has three multimillion dollar grants, including a $30,000-$40,000 one for communities that strive for no-kill status. All of the grants offer more money as communities work toward the goal.
It's important to educate people "that spaying/neutering ultimately is better for everyone than mass euthanasia," House said.
Avanzino said Maddie's Fund wants to work with Sacramento to increase its live release rate.
And that's a goal animal shelters agree with.
"We always say we wish we could be put out of business," said Lesley Kirrene, director of public relations for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Maddie's Fund is committed to every animal, Avanzino said, adding "they are more than just best friends, they're family members."