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Placer SPCA says TV ads do harm

Commercials confuse donors about where money goes
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ television commercials featuring a Sarah McLachlan soundtrack and images of abused and abandoned animals may bring some viewers to tears.

The advertisements have proven effective at soliciting money for the nonprofit organization, which earned $101 million in donations in 2009, up from $64 million in 2007, according to its tax returns. The ASPCA spent more than $19 million on marketing and advertising in 2009.

Maybe some Roseville residents have contributed to the organization — and that poses a problem. The ASPCA is a New York animal shelter and no funds go to the local Placer SPCA, despite what some donors may believe.

The State Humane Association of California and local SPCAs are attempting to clarify this confusion. The Press Tribune sat down with Placer SPCA CEO Leilani Vierra, who also serves on the association’s board of directors.

Tell me about the complaint the State Humane Association of California (SHAC) filed against the ASPCA.

The complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office alleges that the ASPCA has unfair and deceptive fundraising practices that harm local humane societies and SPCAs.

What do you feel is deceptive or harmful?

SPCAs, humane societies and animal control agencies are quite confusing to members of the general public and we acknowledge that. A number of years ago, the ASPCA — the oldest and longest-standing SPCA in the country — began advertising in our local communities. That caused people to believe the ASPCA was a national umbrella for all other SPCAs and humane societies across the country.

In fact, they are not. We’re not a local chapter of a national organization. We’re all independent, private nonprofit organizations. One of the reasons is so we can each independently serve our community’s needs.

In every community that may look different. In Kentucky, they may be challenged with the horse population. Here in Roseville we’re looking more at a companion animal population and in more rural areas, it may be farm animals.

Have you been getting phone calls from confused residents?

It’s not about confusion. They’ve already made the assumption and members of our community are calling us expecting the T-shirt that comes along with their monthly donation to (ASPCA) or have a question about the ASPCA. We’ve been hearing those conversations on an ongoing basis.

(We want to) communicate that we are not affiliated and do not receive donations through the ASPCA. My concern when people see these commercials, which are very compelling, is that people perceive they are helping our local animals. I’m not suggesting that the ASPCA isn’t a great organization. They do wonderful work. (But) they have one shelter in New York and that’s it.

Has SHAC been in touch with ASPCA to talk about the confusion they’re generating?

Back in 2009, SHAC invited Ed Sayres, who’s the CEO and president of ASPCA, to a board meeting to discuss concerns about the fundraising activities and they had a dialogue with him about how meaningful it would be to have disclosure about donations and help people understand what their money is funding. We followed up with a letter. Nothing has changed. We just want to make sure there’s transparency for donors.

How did your recent Funny Bones fundraiser go?

It was great. It was sold out. We had over 300 people in attendance. The event raised close to $90,000. We had a special (request) for our Guardian Angel program, which serves special medical needs. People gave about $25,000 to that program, which is wonderful.

We will spend well over that, especially now in this economy with so many animals surrendered to us with special needs. We’re also getting older animals. We want to ensure their health when they go to adoptive homes.

How many animals does the Placer SPCA accommodate here?

We typically receive between 3,200 and 4,000 animals annually at this location in Roseville. We just opened our adoption center in Auburn. We don’t take in animals at that center. But we work with Placer County Animal Services for animals where they don’t have space or they can’t find homes.

What is Placer SPCA’s annual budget?

Our annual budget is $1.8 million. (Placer SPCA earned $778,122 in donations in 2009).

How much of that comes from private donations?

The majority of funding we receive is from individuals. Corporate funding is at the very bottom of the ladder. So it’s people who are committed to ending cruelty and making sure our homeless animals find homes. It’s the individual givers who make all the difference.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Placer SPCA Pet Fest

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 21

Where: Placer SPCA, 150 Corporation Yard Road in Roseville

Cost: Free

Info: Vendors, food, raffle prizes, pet costume contest, agility course and activities. Visit www.placerspca.org.