What a Purr-fect Evening

By Jon Finck

All photos by Drew Altizer Photography.

April 30

Nothing signifies a gala like a red carpet and gussied-up guests shaking hands and bestowing air kisses. But in the case of the San Francisco SPCA Gala “Metamorphosis” fundraiser on April 30, the stars of the evening gave everyone pause — and paws. No fewer than 10 therapy dogs lined up on the purple carpet to the entrance of the state-of-the-art Mission campus.

With these canine ambassadors all smiles and wags, the charm offensive was on high and I hadn’t even entered the doors to say hello to LiLou the social therapy pig or Duke the therapy cat.

Megan Lindberg of Lafayette gave me a hard look when I asked her what her persuasion was. “Honey, we’re animal hoarders. We have six dogs, no, make that five because one just died; three cats; 14 horses, 35 chickens and a herd of cattle. Oh yeah, did I mention I also have three children?” Out of curiosity, I inquired about feeding time at her home for the four- and two-legged family members. “It’s an all-day buffet.” Megan enthused that she found it very rewarding and that her family just can’t say no to taking care of animals.

And was that Austin Hills, SPCA director emeritus, in the middle of the “cuddle arena” being lovingly mauled by a litter of six rambunctious pup-pies? The smiles just kept coming all night long from the 300 guests as they enthused about their adopted dogs or kitties, some with such names as Boomer, Sunbeam, Oliver, Franklin, Dwight, Kiki and LeBron.

Event co-chair Celeste Meier, with her husband renowned art dealer, Anthony, were thrilled to report “We’re sold out tonight and couldn’t be happier. As a group we thought long and hard about this year’s theme Metamorphosis and how it reflects the weekly transformations that go on here in the center. Rescue dogs and cats arrive here from across the state, sometimes in desperate shape, and the staff works their magic on restoring them to a healthy condition.”

Celeste spoke from experience when referring to the couple’s rescue dog Angus, now the center of their affection. “But we’re especially pleased tonight to honor our friend J. Peter Read, an inspiring champion of animal rights.”

During the animal-friendly vegetarian dinner designed by McCalls Catering, SPCA President Dr. Jennifer Scarlett took to the stage. A popular veterinarian and nationally recognized industry leader, she spoke about the evening’s theme of transformations. “I’m reminded how lucky we are to get anywhere from six to eight ‘pet spans’ in our life. They’re there during our big transformations from childhood to our college days; they’re with us in our first apartment or house; our new job; our first big heartbreak; they snuggle up with us on rainy days; they help us meet our neighbors and take us on hikes. Their love is unconditional and that’s all they ask in return.”

In accepting the SPCA’s Compassion and Excellence Award, J. Peter Read referenced his late wife’s request to follow in her “paw prints” and to “give as much as I could to this institution and to similar causes. It is our obligation to help our four-legged friends. I followed her instructions and I’m proud to have played a role with all of you in this wonderful organization. Thank you for supporting the SPCA in this 151st year.”

Celebrity dragster Heklina brought it all home with a powerful lip-synced performance from the Broadway show Dreamgirls, including a full-on costume transformation of butterfly wings.

The lyrics summed it up best, as if they were being channeled by the waiting dogs and cats hoping to be adopted: “No way am I living without you … and you, and you and you, you’re gonna love me!”

I don’t know about you, but I left purring.

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