Private estate worth $1.7M in Nova Scotia goes to the dogs (and cats)

Samuel Trego plays with 'Stewart' at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County in Birdsboro, PA. (Reuters)
Samuel Trego plays with 'Stewart' at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County in Birdsboro, PA. (Reuters)

Annette and Mannie Lewis of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia loved animals, that much we know for certain.

In the couple’s final years, they lavished their attentions on their beloved cat, Maggie May.

An article in the Chronicle Herald made it clear that Maggie enjoyed the best life could offer: “The best cat bed money could buy, the best food, the best toys, the best treats, the best of veterinary care and, most of all, unconditional love and affection.”

The couple also gave generously to the local animal charity, the Companion Animal Protection Society, from which they adopted Maggie May in 2005, the paper reported.

But it was really only when Annette died in August at the age of 73 that the full extent of their care for orphaned and abandoned animals became known.

Her obituary offered a hint of what was to come, noting that since Mannie’s death in 2008, it was Maggie who was Annette’s “loving and constant companion.”

Then came the reading of the will.

As it turns out, Annette had left the couple’s estate, worth an estimated $1.7 million, to the local animal society. The society is to receive $20,000 annually for the next 21 years to assist with “the continuing care, maintenance, board and veterinary costs for rescued animals,” with the full balance paid out when the society has received $420,000, the Chronicle Herald reports.

If you’re in the camp that believes it’s extreme – even wasteful – to give so much money away to dogs and cats, the Lewis’s final financial decision may seem a little … well …  crazy.

But for those of you who share a soft spot for the world’s many creatures, whether cute and cuddly or cold and scaly, you’ll be comforted to know charitable bequests, even on the scale of the Lewis’s, are more common than you might think.

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Alison Cross, spokeswoman for the Ontario SPCA, wouldn’t reveal details, but said in an interview with Yahoo Canada News that the SPCA is often mentioned in people’s wills, with gifts spanning $200 to more than $2 million.

Indeed, she said, “It’s not unusual for people to leave their entire estates to us or other animal-welfare organizations, for that matter.”

Major donors in Ontario include Mona Campbell, a longtime animal-welfare advocate, who gave more than $1 million to the OSPCA when she died in 2008.

More recently, Sam Simon, an American television writer and co-creator of The Simpsons, bequeathed millions of dollars to various non-profits, including his own Sam Simon Foundation which rescues dogs, funds vet surgeries and provides vegan meals for people in need. Before he died, he also started buying zoos and circuses to free animals, and supported PETA, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which, according to Variety magazine, named one of its vessels after him.

Why animals?

“I think it probably has to do with the fact that people who are pet owners, and animal lovers in general, derive so much benefit from their animals that, for a lot of people, they want to see that other animals into the future will have the benefit of being looked after properly,” said Roland Lines, communications manager at the Alberta SPCA.

Most, if not all, animal organizations rely heavily on public donations to do their work.

In 2013, the Ontario SPCA spent about $17.7 million, with 60 per cent funded through donations and legacy gifts, according to the latest annual report. More than 67 per cent of expenses went to cover animal care, rescue and relief services.

Lines said the Alberta SPCA typically spends more than $3 million annually on its cruelty investigations and enforcement. Most of that money, about $2 million, is funded through public donations.

Earlier this year, the society spent $45,000 after 141 starving and mistreated dogs were seized from a property in southern Alberta. The property owner, who had earlier surrendered another 60 dogs to a shelter, later sued the SPCA. Though she was unsuccessful in the court, the associated legal costs rang up another $30,000 in expenses for the SPCA.

By contrast, the Companion Animal Protection Society is a much more modest operation. Anna Clark, society chair, told the Chronicle Herald that the organization needs about $100,000 each year to cover vet services and other expenses to care for rescued animals.

The society also operates more than 14 foster homes for rescued animals in the region.

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