The SF/SPCA's Cinderella Fund


Whatever privations the fictional Cinderella may have endured, homelessness and illness weren’t among them. The same cannot be said for the large number of sick and injured dogs (and cats) rescued by The San Francisco SPCA who are classified as “Cinderella” animals.

These animals find their lives of pain and hardship transformed by The Cinderella Fund, a charitable service of The SF/SPCA that provides medical treatment for the neediest animals at its shelter.

Diminutive Emma is a case in point. The sweet, 5-year-old Pekingese with long, coppery-red-and-black fur was once a stray at the Madera shelter in California’s Central Valley. The SF/SPCA, through its LifeLinks Program, has formed alliances with overburdened regional shelters like this, offering adoptable dogs and cats facing almost certain euthanasia a second chance at life in San Francisco. Fortunately for Emma, her time at the Madera shelter coincided with a visit by representatives of The SF/SPCA Adoption Department.

What they saw was a small, thin dog with two goopy eyes, one of them with a drooping eyelid. She persistently strained to urinate, with little success and obvious pain. Despite these troubling symptoms, she was a delightful little dog, friendly and affectionate. The SF/SPCA team bundled her into its van, along with several other dogs and cats, and headed back to San Francisco, where Emma’s fairy godmother was waiting!

The Cinderella Fund has been a vital part of the Society’s services since 1978. Over the years, the amount of funding and the number of animals it has helped has steadily increased. In fiscal year 2006-07, the Fund donated $525,000 for the medical care of 193 dogs and 493 cats, all sick or injured as well as homeless. Last fiscal year, the Fund disbursed $539,201 on treatment for 282 dogs and 524 cats. So far in this fiscal year, it has expended $515,000! The SF/SPCA is the national leader in charitable veterinary services, providing more than $1.5 million a year in free and discounted medical care, much of it for the companion animals of eligible San Francisco residents.

Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, Associate Director of Veterinary Services at The SF/ SPCA, is in charge of the Shelter Medicine side of Community Veterinary Services. “Our goal is to get (the animals) through the initial health exam, quarantined if necessary, and spayed and neutered as quickly as possible,” she explains. “The faster we can get them through to adoption, the healthier it is for them, physically and psychologically.”

This is why The SF/SPCA puts a great deal of emphasis on an animal’s intake medical examination, when the dogs and cats are thoroughly assessed for any necessary treatment. Emma’s exam revealed a bladder stone the size of a goose egg, explaining her inability to urinate. Since a urinary obstruction can be life-threatening, the bladder stone had to come out immediately. Emma’s left eye, now diagnosed with an ulcer, would have to wait. Emma was promptly classified as a Cinderella Fund dog and readied for surgery.

During the procedure, SF/SPCA Veterinarians surgically removed the huge bladder stone. Soon afterwards Emma’s appetite improved and she began to put on weight. As soon as she had recovered sufficiently, she was seen by an ophthalmologist, who reported that her left eye had a deep ulcer that had perforated, scarring the lens, causing acute pain, and damaging the eye beyond saving. SF/SPCA veterinarians therefore removed the ulcerated eye and Emma began another period of recuperation.

Scarlett is proud of the number of animals The Cinderella Fund has helped. “Some go to specialists if we can’t do the surgery here,” she said, “for more complex orthopedics or ophthalmology, for instance.”

One example is Tilda, a 9-month old Border Collie mix who came to the shelter crippled by a congenital defect of her rear legs. She underwent extensive surgery performed by San Francisco Veterinary Specialists (SFVS donates certain services under a special agreement with The SF/SPCA), and is now available for adoption. Duchess, a 10-year old Pomeranian mix, was surrendered to the shelter when her guardian’s home was foreclosed upon. A specialist performed surgery to remove the cataracts that had left her practically blind. Like Emma, both Tilda’s and Duchess’ lives have been transformed because of the Cinderella Fund.

The SF/SPCA Animal Hospital and Shelter Medicine division will soon move into the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center, currently under construction. Scarlett reels off the advantages of the new facility – all the dogs on one floor, separate dog and cat intake areas, more surgical rooms, a doubling of the spay/neuter capacity. Most importantly, she says, half of the new center is dedicated to homeless animal rehabilitation and sheltering, so that it will be possible to save many, many more lives than at present.

As for Emma, just over a month after her arrival at The SF/SPCA she appeared on KGO Channel 7’s Morning Show as its Dog of the Month. San Bruno resident Katherine Harms just happened to be watching. “Adopting a dog with special needs was the last thing on my mind,” she recalls. “But when I saw her sitting so quietly, but with a look of great loss and pain, I immediately reached for the phone.”

A year after adopting Emma, Katherine reports, “Her beautiful coat is now long and flowing and she wags her tail nonstop. But if it hadn’t been for The SF/SPCA and the Cinderella Fund, none of this would have been possible.”

The Cinderella Fund is supported in part by proceeds from The SF/ SPCA’s annual Bark & Whine Ball and other special events. Charitable donations are welcome. For more information about the Cinderella Fund, call (415) 554-3000. Christine Rosenblat is Public Information Specialist at The SF/SPCA. She shares her home and office with her two muses, rescue Pekes Gemma and Alix.


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