Animal advocate died knowing his shelter dream was coming true

·2 min read

ST. THOMAS — An advocate for foster animals died knowing his dream of a new dog park and shelter would be realized after an entrepreneur donated nearly half the project's $2.5-million fundraising goal.

Joe Spencer, 75, died in hospital last week, days after Sara Teare, co-founder of the password-manager company 1Password valued at US$6.8 billion, donated $1 million to kick-start the St. Thomas project Spencer spearheaded alongside Teare's mother, a city councillor.

“He was delighted to hear that the million-dollar donation had come through,” Spencer's daughter, Victoria Spencer, said. "I think it's probably the most excited I've heard him."

Her dad called last Monday, asking if she’d heard the news. “He wanted to know every single detail and then he wanted to tell me everything that he wanted to know about this project, and I was to help them figure it out,” she said with a laugh.

Spencer headed the city’s former animal welfare committee for several years and was a member of the All Breed Canine Rescue volunteer group and the St. Thomas Dog Owners Association.

He cared deeply for animals, particularly dogs, loved ones say. After he got his first puppy — Roxie, whom he and his wife, Linda, rescued from a ravine — Spencer went on to foster 100 dogs for various rescue groups.

“More dogs came, and then more dogs came, and more dogs came,” his daughter recalled. “I’d open the door and there’d be a (new) dog running around," his wife added.

Spencer’s passion for helping animals didn’t end there.

He spearheaded the opening of the city’s two dog parks and, alongside St. Thomas Coun. Joan Rymal – big donor Teare's mother – started pushing in 2019 for a new animal services building to replace the aging Burwell Road site.

Last week, after Teare's $1-million donation, city council approved the new facility that will combine an off-leash dog park and other services, on Southdale Line.

“We lost Joe yesterday, but we are thrilled he had learned about his dream for the animals would be coming true,” his widow wrote in an email to The Free Press. “Many thanks . . . for this wonderful generous donation.”

Added his daughter: “He was just . . . so happy. He really felt like he finally had won."

The family asks that donations in Joe Spencer’s memory be made to St. Thomas Animal Services Centre (cheques are payable to “City of St. Thomas – Animal Shelter Donation”).

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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