Credit: Adam Blasberg

To promote animal welfare, Craig Daniell keeps his charity on a tight financial leash

Originally from South Africa, Craig Daniell swapped life in New York City to work in animal welfare in Ontario and B.C. With his charity’s Offleashed fundraising gala fast approaching this month, the BC SPCA chief executive talks about being a risk taker and why he’s always hoping to do himself out of a job…

This much I know…

“I often say that there’s more politics in animal welfare than there was during my time at the United Nations [in New York]. I have encountered many individuals who are so passionate about their cause that they cannot see that other folks may see things differently. At the UN, there is a basic understanding that compromise is always necessary to arrive at good decision-making; sometimes that is not the case in animal welfare.

However, for all the good programs in the UN, I also found it just such a mess of bureaucracy. So, being a bit of a calculated risk taker, I’ve found working at the BC SPCA has given me an opportunity to effect significant change. For example, it used to be common across Canada 20 years ago for animal shelters to be full of dogs. Today we don’t see dog overpopulation problems in B.C., and I put that down to the fact that the animal welfare sectors have done an amazing job in educating the public around responsible animal guardianship, including such things as sterilization.”

“We’re a society for preventing cruelty to animals, so I’ve often said that our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. It’s likely not going to happen in my lifetime, but with fewer animals coming into our shelter, it allows us to move the needle in supporting vulnerable animals that may be owned, for example, whether it’s because there’s an emergency like a fire or flood or to help those in domestic abuse situations who cannot have pets in their [own] shelter.”

“It’s an emotional sector, and people can sometimes think short-term. But I believe passionately that charities have to run as efficient businesses. My job is to make sure that when I leave the organization, it’s in better financial health than when I found it. So, when I joined, we had an $18-million annual budget but had lost $12 million in three years because of an unsustainable model; now its budget is $37 million with capital assets of around $100 million. That’s a significant responsibility.”

“Being mindful of business opportunities that arise means that, in the case of Vancouver, we happen to have an incredibly sought-after piece of property right next to the SkyTrain [the BC SPCA’s HQ is near VCC-Clark station and the new Emily Carr University]. I’ve always thought to myself we can do so much more than just build a new provincial office, vet hospital, animal shelter and educational facilities, so we are proposing a 200-unit student housing complex on the site, too. Discussions are ongoing with the City of Vancouver.”

The Deets

Position: CEO of the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has 575 staff, since 2003
Age: 51
Previous roles: Director of investigations with the Ontario SPCA‘s cruelty investigations department; diplomat (second secretary, legal affairs) representing South Africa at the United Nations in New York
School: Law degree from University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Kudos: During his time at the UN, Daniell regularly met with Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu
Lunch: Gnocchi with pesto at Lombardo’s Pizzeria & Ristorante, Vancouver

Fun fact: “Of course I do get the actor ‘Daniel Craig’ confusion with my name quite a bit! In fact, my wife’s name is Penny [the couple have four children and live in Langley], so we’ve had the Miss Moneypenny reference a few times, too. My usual comeback is ‘If only I was as good-looking as him.’”