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Animal House

Marin's Very Human Humane Society

Diane Allevato, Retiring Director of the Hume Society and her Australian Shepherds, Kit and Dale

(page 1 of 3)

Diane Allevato doodles. A lot. As she listens to a visitor ask a rambling question about the Marin Humane Society, which as executive director she has run since 1980, her right hand is busy drawing forceful angles with a pen on a desk pad.

The doodling seems therapeutic, something to alleviate Allevato’s natural impatience while having to be in listening mode. When the questioner finishes, Allevato transfers the measured intensity of her scribblings to her answer and she says something pointed and eloquent like this:“Many humane societies are cat and dog organizations. That is just not consistent with our mission. It doesn’t even serve the cats and dogs very well. By that I mean that we’re not really in the business of selling used pets. We’re really in the business of selling a value system, a way of looking at our essential living creatures and realizing that they have rights and interests and we have responsibilities.”

The directness of those words and the ambitious moral stance they embrace don’t quite fit a first impression of Allevato. Diminutive, 60 years old, a thatch of thick hair well seasoned with gray and casually dressed to the point of Birkenstocks over socks, she could easily be mistaken for a substitute English teacher rather than who she really is—a woman of the ’60s who left law school intent on changing the world and discovered canines and kitties served that quest better than a courtroom.

Allevato’s eyes are small and dark, but when she speaks they become transfixing, enlivened by passion and twinkling with good humor. After ten minutes in a room with Allevato, you’re ready to leap onto the barricades with her—or at least sign up as a Humane Society volunteer and start swabbing out some kennels.

It would be an overstatement to say that Allevato is the Marin Humane Society—and a disservice to her dedicated staff and the nearly 800 volunteers who walk dogs, chuck cat cheeks and, yes, swab kennels—but it’s hard to imagine how the society could have become the national model for animal care and community involvement it is today without her vision and drive.  

That’s a question the Humane Society must answer soon because Allevato is stepping down at the end of June to devote her time to animal rights causes. (Her replacement had not been announced by deadline.) “I’m leaving the job, but I’m not leaving the work,” she says. “It’s a good time. It’s one of those milestone years and it’s a milestone year for the society, too.”
Indeed, the Marin Humane Society turns 100 this year and can celebrate its centennial this month with a menu of innovations and accomplishments that surely would have pleased its founder, a San Anselmo horse lover named Ethel Tompkins.

Under Allevato’s guidance (and, some would say, insistence), the society:

  • Opened the first low-cost spay-neuter clinic on the West Coast (and pioneered the now-common practice of sterilizing cats and dogs at 8 weeks of age).
  • Was the first to mandate that all adopted cats and dogs be injected with tracking microchips, which the society subsidizes—$5 for cats, $10 for dogs.
  • Established programs to help elderly people keep their pets by having volunteers shop and care for the animals.
  • Launched an extensive training curriculum that addresses the top reasons people give up their dogs—behavior problems.
  • Formed a network of 48 Northern California animal care facilities called Pet Partnerships that takes dogs and cats from overcrowded shelters and brings them to Marin for adoption.
  • Planned a five-year, $8 to 10 million rehabilitation of the 57,000-square-foot Novato complex to make the shelter and secondary buildings more efficient, more environmentally green and more animal friendly. Work begins this fall.
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