Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Placer SPCA chief takes page from for-profit companies to get animals into good homes

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

The evolution of the Placer SPCA and its chief executive, Leilani Fratis, reflects the metamorphosis that has occurred at many nonprofits over the last two decades.

When Fratis took the reins of the Roseville animal welfare organization in 2002, she told her board: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a kitten or a cat or a dog or a puppy, we should charge the same fee for each and every one of them because they all have equal value.”

Since then, Fratis has observed consumer behavior and reviewed scientific research from the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis. While she has the same desire to find every animal a good home, Fratis now recognizes that consumers will pay a premium for certain animals. That premium buys time to find homes for other, difficult-to-place pets.

“We now have pets that could be free to a great home,” Fratis said, “and we have a puppy up front right now that we know is highly adoptable. It’s $250.”

Fratis found the UC Davis suggestions uncomfortable at first, but the results gave all animals more hope: “We’ve learned from them that the quickest way to adopt animals in our current situation in our community is to have no more than 23 adult cats and 44 kittens on our adoption floor at any one time. When we have that number … we will adopt out those animals more quickly than if we had more inventory or stock on the floor.”

Many nonprofits across the country are adopting the strategies and language of business as they strive to sustain and grow their operations amid economic uncertainty.

The Placer SPCA’s budget has grown to $2.3 million, compared with roughly $600,000 when Fratis took over. The organization has opened a thrift store and added new locations, all of which bring in new revenue. It recently acquired 2.2 acres of land where it will build a new shelter. A legion of volunteers put in 96,696 hours of work last year, up 42 percent from 2008. Charity Navigator has given the nonprofit its highest rating, four stars, for eight years in a row.

All of those achievements got the attention of the Roseville Chamber of Commerce, which recently named Fratis its Business Person of the Year.

Hey, world, meet this app

Days before a June 4 introduction of their new baby, a mobile app that makes the world a much smaller place, Sacramento natives Blake Mori and John Parilo took it along on their road trip to the BottleRock music festival in Napa Valley.

With the app, known as wimZr, travelers can introduce themselves to locals or other visitors who will be in the same city at the same time. But Mori and Parilo weren’t looking to find friends or dates at BottleRock. They wanted consumer reaction – and they got plenty.

“People were downloading it on the spot,” said Mori, who’s an insurance agent when he’s not dreaming up apps. “Everyone from BottleRock was saying, ‘Oh, I wish we could have done this before we got to BottleRock.’ ”

The concert-goers only wanted to find people coming to Napa for the music festival. Originally, Parilo and Mori had planned to add an “events” category to their app in six months to a year, thinking other updates should come first. But after BottleRock, they put their plans – and egos – aside.

“You have to let the people dictate what makes you valuable because you can’t say, ‘No, come back. It should be this way,’ ” Mori said. “The last thing we want is for somebody to come out and make an app doing just what we’re doing, but just for events, because that could put us behind the 8-ball.”

Parilo, who works on the regional Think Big initiative for the downtown sports and entertainment complex, said the events search should be added to wimZr in a couple of months. The free app,, is available for both iPhone and Android.

Confusion is brewing

River City Brewing Co. is open for business in Sacramento’s Downtown Plaza, although owner Beth Ayres gets a handful of calls daily from customers asking if the restaurant is closed.

“On Saturday, I had a total of five phone calls,” Ayres said. “People are getting pieces of the story and not putting it all together.”

For the record, River City is located in a section of the mall at 547 L St. that will continue business as usual during and after construction of the new Sacramento Kings arena. Getta Clue, Forever 21, Macy’s, Century Theatres, the food court and several other businesses also remain open.

Ayres estimated that her business is off 10 percent to 15 percent from the same period a year ago, which she attributed to consumer confusion. Over at Getta Clue, co-owner Justin Bilbao told me that business also was down about 10 percent, but said the decline was not unexpected considering that the store relocated from a site in the construction zone.

Initially, Ayres said, she wasn’t worried about slow sales because she expected hundreds of construction workers would patronize River City, but that hoped-for revenue stream hasn’t materialized yet. She wants the mall management to do more to educate the public about which businesses are staying open during the arena’s construction. Officials with Downtown Plaza did not return a call seeking comment.

“We all think it’s going to be great and a gold mine when it’s all said and done,” Ayres said, “but things have been rocky for many years because we didn’t know what was going on with this mall. Finally, we have a a light at the end of the tunnel, but now I have to make it to that point.”