Rich Avanzino's legacy of lifesaving was inspired by a dog doomed to die but saved by love
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Rich Avanzino is widely considered to be the godfather of the no-kill movement. And it certainly seemed, even early in his life, that he would do something that involved caring for animals. In his high school yearbook, he was identified as "most likely to become a veterinarian." But certain aspects of veterinary school dismayed him. Instead, he earned a doctor of pharmacy degree, followed by a law degree, and eventually became administrator of a health care agency in Orange County, California. A call from an employment headhunter and a little dog named Sido changed the direction of his life.
The recruiter represented a not-for-profit organization, and approached Avanzino because he had a reputation for saving financially distressed organizations. After three months of interviews, Avanzino learned he was being sought by an animal-welfare organization, the San Francisco SPCA. He was still passionate about animals and excited to take the job when it was offered.
The selection committee never expected that in his quest to save an organization 90 days away from bankruptcy, he would turn the idea of a shelter upside down. Avanzino and his team instituted new hours to make it easier for people to come see potential pets. They got rid of the high-altitude chamber used to kill unadopted animals and started a volunteer program and a spay/neuter clinic.
"We just started trying to do right by the animals one step at a time, and the community got engaged and the community saved the pets," he says.
Then came Sido.
"My belief in the no-kill nation came back in 1979 when a dog named Sido came to the San Francisco SPCA," Avanzino says. "She was 11 years old, and people thought that dogs over 5 years old couldn't be saved, couldn't find a home."
For that reason, Sido's owner had stipulated in her will that Sido be taken to the veterinarian and "destroyed" upon her death. Avanzino fought for the dog's life in court and won. The support Sido received from the public and the legislative and judicial system inspired him to help even more animals have the opportunity to live.
That goal was a factor in his 1999 move to what is now Maddie's Fund, the largest dog and cat charity in the world. There he helped to create the idea of shelter medicine, promote sterilization of feral cats, enable communities to offer an adoption guarantee for healthy and treatable animals, and increase the business acumen of shelter directors to match the passion they had for pets.
Of his career, he says: "To be part of that experience, to watch the community and the not-for-profits and the government ... embrace the importance of our bond was a dream come true for me in terms of recognizing what our species should be doing for the other species that share our home. I was able to work on my passion, work with my passion, work for my passion and make a meaningful difference."
Avanzino is retiring as president of Maddie's Fund next month, but he's not leaving animal welfare behind. His dog, Bri, and cat, Puddy, will see more of him than they already do, but he will still consult for the organization, and he'll become involved in an even more personal way by fostering pets.
"I expect to stay engaged in the cause that has taken my heart and my soul and all of my energy over the last forty years," Avanzino says. "I can't leave it behind. It's part of my DNA, and until my last breath, I will be part of it."
Mouth disease affects
both dogs and cats
Q: My cavalier's breath was really bad, even though he just had his teeth cleaned five months ago. The veterinarian says he has a condition called stomatitis. What can you tell me about it? -- via email
A: Ouch! Stomatitis is a really painful inflammation that affects the mouth, gums and tongue. We see it more often in cats, but it can affect dogs, too. Cavaliers and Maltese are among the breeds that seem to be especially susceptible.
Causes include periodontal disease or foreign bodies lodged in the mouth. It can also be related to a systemic disease such as kidney failure or diabetes mellitus. Trench mouth, also known as St. Vincent's stomatitis, is caused by bacteria. Broken or diseased teeth that frequently come in contact with mucous lining the lips, cheeks or gums can cause stomatitis as well. In rare instances, dogs develop a type of stomatitis called thrush, an overgrowth of yeast in the body.
Signs of stomatitis include drooling, serious bad breath (the kind that stinks up the whole house), and difficulty chewing or flat-out refusal to eat. If your dog will let you look at his mouth -- some won't because it's so painful -- you may notice that the lining of the mouth is bright red or that the gums bleed when you rub them. Some dogs have sores in the mouth.
Depending on the cause and severity of the disease, your veterinarian may recommend a professional cleaning under anesthesia, removal of any teeth causing problems, a course of antibiotics, a mouth rinse to reduce plaque, and daily brushing to keep plaque at bay. He'll also need medication to relieve pain during recovery. If your dog has a systemic disease causing the problem, treatment may help prevent recurrence. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Pets, prisoners get second
chance behind bars
-- At Dixon Correctional Institute in northern Louisiana, inmates learn new skills and pets find new homes. The medium-security prison houses Pen Pals, a unique shelter for dogs and cats that grew out of emergency housing for animals after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Louisiana State University veterinarians and veterinary students train inmates, who care for the animals. Inmates can earn veterinary technician degrees and benefit from the responsibility and the personal connections they build with the animals. Since opening in August 2010, 625 dogs and 451 cats have found homes, reports Diane Herbst in People magazine.
-- Does your pet like to lick your skin? His habit can be deadly if you are using creams or lotions containing flurbiprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned last month that two cats developed kidney failure and three cats died in homes where owners were using the prescription topical pain medications. Necropsies performed on the three cats who died showed evidence of NSAID toxicity. Ingesting even small amounts of the medication by licking skin can be toxic to cats and dogs. Ask your doctor if you can cover the treated area, and avoid letting your pet lick you or any clothing or other item that may have come in contact with the medication. Take your pet to the veterinarian immediately if you think he has been exposed to it.
-- When dogs stare at each other it's usually with aggressive intent, but a dog's willingness to gaze at people and receive their gaze in return signals social attachment or, dare we say it, friendship or love. The willingness to make eye contact, so important between humans, may have developed during domestication, according to a report published April 17, 2015, in Science, and gave dogs an edge in developing a social partnership with people, the authors suggest. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Rich Avanzino's passion for animals and advocacy of a humane ethic will continue in retirement. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: A dog's stare may mean more than a demand for a treat. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3