for the dogs
Santa Cruz SPCA
2685 Chanticleer Avenue, Santa Cruz
by Kelly Luker
Lisa Carter broke up her first dogfight when she was four years old. Neither that, nor the painful series of rabies shots that followed, could deter Carter from a lifelong devotion to dogs. That devotion eventually led Carter to her position today as Santa Cruz SPCA’s executive director. However, the route to guarding the welfare of dogs was far from direct.
Carter manages a chuckle as she recounts that childhood memory. Other memories may not have been so good. Carter admits she had a “tough time” growing up and learned early on to look to animals for unconditional love. Asked if anyone in particular influenced her attachment to dogs, Carter replied that it was something she believes she was born with. “You can always trust an animal,” Carter says. “They won’t tell your secrets.” Carter’s first dog, a Boston Terrier named Smitty, was the unfortunate participant in Carter’s childhood dogfight. There have been other dogs since then, but the one she held dearest was Harold, a Dandie Dinmont Terrier. Harold came to live with Carter when she was seven and stayed with her until his death when Carter was 28. He accompanied Carter to her classes at Ohio State University and then to each successive workplace after graduation. “Harold went with me everywhere,” she says. “Those were my conditions.”
When Carter graduated from college, she loaded up her car and drove with Harold to Los Angeles, arriving broke and jobless. Eventually she found work in marketing and quickly rose in that field. Carter moved to Santa Cruz 25 years ago and found a very lucrative marketing position in San Francisco.
When the commute to San Francisco became too much, Carter quit and began to volunteer at the Santa Cruz SPCA. After three years, she was asked to be interim director. Within a year, that position became permanent. The SPCA had recently opted not to pick up the county contract to provide animal control services. “It was a pivotal time,” remarks Carter. Like many SPCAs around the country, Santa Cruz decided to focus solely on animal welfare. Instead of regulation and enforcement, the SPCA rescues animals and provides animal welfare education to the public. Although the organization finds homes for virtually all of the animals, Carter disputes the term “no-kill” shelter. “There’s no such thing,” she said. She explained that county-run animal services must euthanize since they are required to take in all homeless pets, while the SPCA, a private nonprofit, can be selective about which ones they rescue. The problem, as always, is pet overpopulation.
Carter also helped spearhead the fifth largest Katrina rescue airlift, bringing over 150 sick and displaced dogs from the hurricane-devastated region to Santa Cruz for rehabilitation and adoption. She also organized another airlift in 2009. Ten dogs from a Los Angeles shelter moved to the French Riviera—Carter’s way of bringing attention to overcrowded shelters in the U.S. and encouraging people to adopt pets instead of purchasing from breeders.
In 2008, a fire broke out in the SPCA’s main office, forcing the organization to move to a small house for their headquarters. Another fire in 2012 once again reminded the staff how badly a new facility was needed. Fortunately, one is on its way. Thanks to Carter’s marketing skills and business acumen, the Santa Cruz SPCA has raised enough donations to soon break ground for a state-of-the-art facility. While the present location can barely hold 70 animals, the new shelter will be able to comfortably accommodate 150 animals.
After 10 years at the helm, Carter’s energy has not flagged. She is in the office seven days a week including holidays, and cannot remember the last time she missed a day. Carter no longer owns a dog, although she does bring home hospice cases. Any particular piece of wisdom she has learned in caring for her four-footed friends? “If people could be more like dogs,” she says, “the world would be a better place.”