Paul and Stacy Brunner first learned about Cookie when she was featured in the Pleasanton Weekly as a "special needs dog" looking for a home.
The following weekend, the Brunners headed to the Tri-Valley Animal Rescue Saturday morning adoption event, hoping for a chance to meet the year-old pit bull puppy.
The Brunners were shocked to watch people walk away after learning the friendly, engaging dog was deaf.
"There was nothing else wrong with her," Stacy explained. "And Maddie's Fund had paid to have her trained to respond to a vibrating collar. She's a great dog -- we take her everywhere. She's our adventure dog."
Dogs like Cookie are the reason Maddie's Fund exists.
Established in 1994 as the Duffield Family Foundation and renamed in memory of the family's beloved miniature schnauzer in 1997, Maddie's Fund has helped allow Dave Duffield and his family to give over $300 million to ensure the welfare and placement of shelter animals.
The business executive and Pleasanton have a long history together. First there was PeopleSoft, then came Workday. Now Duffield has based Maddie's Fund in 3,000 square feet of the Stoneridge Corporate Plaza originally purchased for Workday offices. From there, the foundation is working with local rescue groups and shelters to make America a "no kill" nation by 2015.
Many animal welfare advocates consider the elimination of euthanasia to be an unattainable goal, but Duffield and the president of Maddie's Fund, Rich Avanzino, believe it will happen. "Not just in this lifetime," Avanzino said, "but in the year ahead."
For Avanzino, it comes down to a matter of mathematics.
"There were 2.7 million animals euthanized in shelters last year," he said. "Our research shows there are 17 million people thinking about taking an animal into their home."
"All we need to do is convince 2.7 million of those 17 million people to adopt their animal from a shelter, and we will have reached the goal," he added. "That's only four additional adoptions per animal facility each week."
Avanzino and the Duffield family recognize the challenge Maddie's Fund presents to the shelters by setting the "no kill" goal just months away. But, they say, the payoff for protecting the adoptable animals languishing in shelters across the nation is too big to ignore.
Maddie herself was a dog the Duffields adopted from a Northern California family in 1987. The joy she brought to their lives inspired Duffield to promise their furry friend that should the company he was just starting ever make any real money, he would give back to her and her kind.
The Duffields certainly know how to keep their promises.
Dave, his wife Cheryl, and all three of their children are involved with ensuring the success of Maddie's Fund and its signature event -- the largest free animal adoption program in America. This year, May 31 to June 1, will mark the fifth anniversary of Maddie's Fund Adoption Days, a two-day extravaganza that has grown exponentially each year since its inception.
"Five years ago we put up $1 million and saved 1,800 animals," Duffield said. "Last year we placed 8,436 animals in homes over the three days. This year our goal is 10,000 animals placed in their forever homes, and I am betting we will exceed that goal."
Avanzino concurs, pointing out that Maddie's Fund has earmarked $10 million for this year's event.
This is good news for the more than 200 shelters and rescue groups in cities across nine states participating in the Adoption Days program that went national just last year. Pleasanton has been a part of Adoption Days for the past four years, and the relationship strengthens with each event.
Carrie Williams, director of marketing and business development for Stoneridge Shopping Center, said Pleasanton's mall is proud to be the biggest adoption site in the Bay Area.
"As neighbors with Workday, it was a natural fit for us to work with Dave and the organization to give back to the community," Williams said.
The stores and the mall work together to promote Adoption Days, and the event is becoming quite well known, according to Williams, who added, "Every day of the weekend there will be 25-30 people waiting in line before the mall opens. Some groups run out of animals and don't have to return on Sunday."
Emptying the cages is the ultimate goal, which is why the foundation's vision for the future of Maddie's Fund recently changed direction.
In 2012 the foundation purchased an empty building in Hacienda Business Park with the intention to build Maddie's Center, a state-of-the-art animal shelter and research facility at an estimated cost of over $45 million.
However, Duffield said those plans no longer make sense. "As we talked to the people who were successful at placing animals in homes, we began to realize the money we were going to spend on that facility is better spent supporting those organizations who are already good at getting the animals out of the shelters," he said.
Avanzino added that while Maddie's Fund will continue to support research through Maddie's Institute -- the academic division of Maddie's Fund that provides animal welfare information to shelter staff, veterinarians, and rescue groups -- the future for placing animals in loving homes isn't in bricks and mortar shelters.
"Fostering is the future for the 'no kill' goal," Avanzino said. "People are more likely to adopt if the animal lovers of our country are engaged in the process. Maddie's Fund can provide programs like free spaying and neutering and money for training and medical help, but we can't supply the hours and people needed to reach our goals."
Sue James, president of Tri-Valley Animal Rescue (TVAR), couldn't agree more.
A foster-based organization, TVAR and its 250 volunteers officially became a part of the Maddie's Fund family on Feb. 1, though they have enjoyed support from the foundation for several years.
"Throughout our relationship, the people at Maddie's Fund saw how our system works; that by fostering our animals in homes and making our foster families part of the adoption process, we are able to place over 1,000 dogs and cats into permanent homes each year," James said. "They let us know they were impressed and they wanted to help."
The partnership is so new they are still exploring ways to reach their mutual goal of a "no kill" community, but the financial support Maddie's Fund has provided for medical care and training for dogs that need socializing has already benefited TVAR's adoption efforts.
TVAR will participate in Maddie's Fund Adoption Days this year, as they have the last four, but this year they will be working to raise funds for the animals of the East County Animal Shelter.
For each healthy animal the TVAR volunteers are able to place over the Adoption Days program, East County will receive $500 from Maddie's Fund. A senior cat or dog with a treatable medical issue brings a stipend of $1,000 to the shelter. If a senior animal with a treatable medical condition is adopted, the shelter receives $2,000.
"We are in this to find homes for every animal," Avanzino said. "The old and the ugly deserve forever homes, also."
For those who have concerns that a free adoption event might attract unqualified pet owners, James said there is no need to worry. "There is still a screening process in place, and if we have any doubts, we will make a home visit before putting an animal in someone's care," she added.
The Maddie's Fund Adoption Days spirit of commitment can be found throughout the year in Pleasanton's Delucchi Park. Each Saturday TVAR volunteers gather and talk up the animals they care for to potentially permanent parents. The matchmakers are so successful that adoptive families often come back to visit, happy to share their stories with those considering adoption.
That type of happy ending is exactly what Maddie's Fund and TVAR plan for every dog in their program and in the nation.
So, don't miss this year's Adoption Days on May 31 and June 1; there will be plenty of dogs and cats like the Brunners' Cookie -- happy, healthy animals just waiting for their forever families to find them.
Maddie's Fund Adoption Days locations
* Stoneridge Mall
* Alameda County Fairgrounds
* Petco, Livermore
* East County Animal Shelter, Dublin
* Blue Agave Restaurant, Pleasanton
* PetSmart, Dublin
* Valley Humane Society, Pleasanton
* Pet Food Express, Livermore