Mesa spaying clinic born from her love for pets
By Wayne Schutsky, Tribune Staff Writer
To hear Dick Barnhart tell it, his wife Bea always had a passion for charity and that led her to become heavily involved with large nonprofits like American Cancer Society and Humane Society when they lived in California.
So, when they moved to the Valley, Bea wanted to connect with a local organization where she could play a more direct and central role.
The Scottsdale resident found that outlet in Altered Tails, a Valley nonprofit that focuses on reducing dog and cat euthanasia by providing affordable spay and neuter services to pet owners, shelters and other organizations.
“The thing that is so heart wrenching is euthanasia, and (Bea) learned that spay-neuter was the most effective answer to euthanasia and that she could create something that would have an impact on that,” Dick Barnhart said.
Though Bea passed away over the summer, her impact will be felt for a long time through Altered Tails, which started as a modest mobile operation in the early 2000s.
Under Bea’s watch, the organization grew to two brick and mortar clinics that spay and neuter over 20,000 dogs and cats a year.
As board chair, Bea essentially ran the organization alongside Executive Director Sue Della Maddalena, who first met the Barnharts when she was leading PetSmart Charities.
“She figured that was a way to do it very efficiently,” Dick said of the consolidated leadership structure. “That was a way to get the biggest return for the dollar.”
The team has shown a knack for using the bulk of the organization’s funds for the program.
“We’ve been in the area of 85 to 86 percent” of dollars raised going to the program, Maddalena said.
After working with larger organizations, Bea preferred the more modest size of Altered Tails. Altered Tails has a three-person leadership team, led by Maddalena, and a four-person board of directors along with an advisory group.
“Bea was a strong-willed lady,” Dick Barnhart said. “And one of the things she felt strongly about was that (at some larger nonprofits) there were too many cooks in the kitchen.”
The Barnharts donated the building where the first brick and mortar location opened in Phoenix in 2009 and also provided continued financial support in years to come for Altered Tails.
The second location opened in Mesa in 2013, and the nonprofit opened a third location in Tucson that later closed.
The organization has plans to expand to the West Valley in 2019.
“Bea felt passionately that spay and neuter was the answer to reducing euthanasia,” said Maddalena.
Bea was right, according to Maddalena, who noted that shelter intakes and euthanasia rates have dropped in Maricopa County since Altered Tails opened its brick and mortar location in Phoenix in 2009.
Intake of dogs in Maricopa County shelters has dropped from 34,575 in 2013 to 28,904 in 2017.
Euthanasia in county shelters has dropped over the same time period from 10,360 dogs euthanized in 2013 to 1,866 dogs euthanized in 2017, according to data provided by Maricopa County Animal Care and Control.
The locations can spay and neuter an average of 80 dogs and cats per day thanks to a team of hardworking technicians and veterinarians.
The organization is able to maintain that volume because of its coordination with a range of local organizations like Maricopa County and Fix. Adopt. Save., a campaign sponsored by Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, PetSmart Charities and Arizona Community Foundation.
It is also able to offer affordable or free spay and neuter services to pet owners.
“Being a nonprofit, our goal is to make the services affordable for people,” Maddalena said.
She said Altered Tails can offer spay and neuter services at a cheaper rate than many alternative providers because it is all they do, unlike veterinary offices that provide a wider range of services.
The organization also relies on grants and donations from major donors like the Barnharts to provide discounted services.
“We raise funds to bridge the gap between the cost of services and what we offer them for,” said Maddalena, who noted the organization has to raise between $500,000 and $600,000 a year to bridge that gap.
Altered Tails has also started a memorial fund in Bea’s honor to raise funds for services.