Annie Lee Roberts
Founder of the
DOGS and CATS. They are man’s best friends and companions. When you open the door from a long day at work, they are the first ones to greet you at the door. When you’re feeling sick, they are the ones nestled against your side, offering a sense of comfort and protection. Studies have even shown that pets can keep you healthy- reducing stress, improving your mood, and staving off feelings of loneliness, while providing the unconditional love that we all crave.
But not all dogs and cats receive this love and live this life of luxury. There are millions of feral dogs and cats roaming the streets with thousands more in shelters waiting to be adopted. The vast majority of those in shelters end up being killed through injection, gassing, or even drowning and electrocution in some areas. This overpopulation of animals has a number of causes, the most prominent being negligent owners who fail to have their pets spayed or neutered.
The number of feral cats is especially disturbing. To put it in perspective, a pair of breeding cats, which can have two or more litters per year can exponentially produce 781,250 offspring over a seven-year period. It is also estimated that the number of feral cats in Texas and California rival the total number of the human populations of these states, according to DVM, the Newsmagazine of Veterinary Science.
The Summerlee Foundation Responds to the Feral Cat Crisis
Seeing the feral cat overpopulation as a major concern, the Summerlee Foundation in Dallas, Texas took action. The Summerlee Foundation had already been working since 1988 with a two-fold mission to:
These were both life passions of the Foundation’s founder, Annie Lee Roberts. During her lifetime, she supported a number of agencies that worked to prevent animal cruelty and keep animals safe and healthy including shelters, wildlife sanctuaries, and emergency care centers.
Over the years, the Foundation has found that working in animal protection has become increasingly difficult.
“The challenge in working in animal protection is that the animal need is huge and there simply is not enough money and people funding and giving to animal causes,” said Melanie Lambert, Program Director for the Animal Protection program of the Summerlee Foundation. “We have a large number of proposals that come in with great projects each year, but there is simply not enough funding. It is difficult when you have to turn down so many.”
Therefore, to help alleviate this issue, as well as respond to the animal overpopulation crisis, especially that of feral cats, the Summerlee Foundation has narrowed the focus of its Animal Protection program with strategic initiatives to fund only those communities which are the most underserved and the most challenged and provide support mainly for spay/neuter programs and those that offer feral cat protection such as Friends of the Animals at Cedar Creek Lake, a clinic offering low-cost spay and neuter services.
“The Summerlee Foundation awarded us a grant that paid for the spaying and neutering of 65 cats,” said Sydney Busch, Friends of the Animals’ Clinic Director. “Of those, 30 to 40 of them were female. By having them spayed, literally millions of cats were not born. This is an enormous impact.”
Spaying and neutering cats and dogs also alleviates a number of behavioral problems including aggressiveness and sexual behavior and can have a tremendous impact on the community as a whole.
Hazel Greenberg, the grants manager for the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program in Houston, TX explains.
“Although reducing cruelty to animals is one of the main goals, spaying and neutering also helps in a number of different ways. When you have an animal population problem, it affects the environment- animal carcasses pile at landfills and dead animals grace the streets. If an animal is spayed or neutered by SNAP, they also receive free rabies shots, therefore protecting public health. It also protects public safety because those animals that are spayed and neutered are less aggressive than those that are not. That goes for both companion and homeless animals. It also saves the municipal government money. With fewer animals in animal control, the less they have to spend on animal control services, so it then becomes an economic issue. It even has to do with community development because neighborhoods overrun with homeless animals are often unsanitary and just do not look good.”
As you can tell, this important procedure can have a profound effect on communities. The Foundation’s efforts to promote the spaying and neutering of feral cats and animals, as well as their humane treatment pervades not only Texas and the United States, but also across the border to Mexico.
“The Foundation established an enormous initiative in Mexico,” said Lambert. “Mexico has a severe dog and cat overpopulation crisis. They round up and euthanize animals by electrocution and drowning. It is horrible for the people working in the canine control centers, as well as for the animals. Therefore, we created a three-fold project where we work with the canine control centers in Nuevo Leon, providing them with free spays and neuters, teaching them the more humane euthanasia by injection, and performing veterinary training, teaching them high quality animal care and sterilization practices.”
SNAP- the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program in Houston- was a key partner in this
“The Summerlee Foundation came to us to work with them on this initiative,” said Greenberg. “Basically, we brought a mobile clinic to Monterrey through which we performed free spay and neuter services. We also taught humane euthanasia techniques. It took some time, but the Government finally promised that they would no longer use electrocution and drowning, but employ these new, more humane techniques. Through this program, we were really trying to reduce the cruelty and save animals lives.”
Other Initiatives within the Animal Protection Program
In addition to their work with feral cats and animals, the Summerlee Foundation also seeks to protect wildlife including mountain lions, bob cats, coyotes, and black bears in the western and mountain states in particular. Their concern for marine mammals is also evident as they collaborate and partner with organizations to keep marine mammals out of captivity and the entertainment industry.
“The capture of marine mammals is extremely brutal,” said Lambert. “Many are caught in Japanese drive fisheries. The entertainment industry then goes out and picks the ones they want to use for their programs and then the rest are slaughtered. The ones that are chosen are now separated from their families and are outside of their natural habitat.”
The Summerlee Foundation’s Other Focus: Texas History
Mrs. Roberts was not only a lover of animals, but also an avid history buff. She and her husband Summerfield G. Roberts, an independent oilman, businessman, naval officer, and fifth-generation Texan, were especially interested in preserving Texas’ rich history. Long before the Summerlee Foundation existed, the couple established the Summerfield G. Roberts Award through the Sons of the Republic of Texas in 1948, awarding $2,500 in cash each year to the best creative work about the days of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1846. Past recipients have included Edward L. Miller’s New Orleans and the Texas Revolution, Greg Cantrell’s Stephan F. Austin, Empresario of Texas, and Timothy M. Motovina’s Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio 1821-1860.
Today, the Summerlee Foundation funds a wide variety of Texas history programs ranging from academic research to archeology.
When asked why it is important to preserve Texas history, John W. Crain, the Summerlee Foundation’s President said, “It’s impossible to understand the present and the future without understanding the past. We certainly have the most interesting history of any state and people from throughout the country and the world are interested. Take for instance The Handbook of Texas Online. They receive between six and eight million hits per month from 80 countries. That is pretty amazing.”
To satiate this interest, the Foundation has invested more than 5 million dollars into Texas history projects to date. They have supported projects such as the recovery of the La Belle from Matagorda Bay and the publication of the New Handbook of Texas. The East Texas Historical Association has also received grants from the Foundation in support of their speaker series.
“The Summerlee Foundation has enabled us to bring historians to the Stephan F. Austin State University campus and have them speak to the community and academic audience,” said Archie McDonald, Executive Director of the East Texas Historical Association. “We have limited resources, all of which are allocated to our operations including our meetings and the publication of our journal. In order to have this kind of outreach through speakers and symposia, the exterior funding is essential.”
One of Crain’s favorite projects that the Foundation is currently funding is the preservation of the Old Red Courthouse, which will be transformed into a Museum of History in Dallas. Set to open in one year, the museum will be a welcome addition to the cultural entities in the west end of Dallas.
Since its inception, the Summerlee Foundation has awarded a total of $ 22,600,000 in grants. With focused efforts and funding, they have been able to make a significant impact in the areas of Animal Protection and the promotion of Texas History. Their progressive approach to grant-making is one to be commended.
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