Forty two years ago Carter Luke, then aged 29, was scooping cat boxes and stretching every available dime to avoid exceeding the $75,000 annual budget at the Coulee Region Humane Society in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where his unparalleled career in animal welfare started.
Luke announced today at a town hall-style meeting for employees his retirement as President of the MSPCA-Angell, an organization to which he has devoted the last 34 years of his career.
Luke’s last day will be Dec. 31, 2019. A search for a new president is being led by the organization’s Board of Directors.
Solving the Pet Overpopulation Crisis
When Luke started as the MSPCA’s Director of Shelters in 1985 the organization was operating eight animal shelters that collectively took in 60,000 animals a year. “At that time, organized low cost spay and neuter programs didn’t even exist, and we couldn’t imagine a day when we’d begin to solve the over-population crisis,” he said.
In 1986, in partnership with the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, Luke built a state-wide coalition of hundreds of veterinarians who agreed to partner with the MSPCA to provide low-cost spay and neuter services to needy pet owners.
That initiative, now called the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), has in the last 30 years spayed and neutered over 150,000 pets, preventing the birth of tens of millions of unwanted animals.
These efforts, buttressed with new techniques—such as sterilizing at younger ages, before animals ever go into heat—have reduced the number of animals surrendered to the MSPCA’s shelters by over 70 percent since the late 1980s.
A Promotion—and a Huge Leap Forward for Animals
By 1989 Luke was promoted to Vice President of Animal Protection of the MSPCA, overseeing not just the organization’s statewide network of animal shelters but also its advocacy and policy making operation, as well as its anti-cruelty investigative unit.
Luke’s passion for elevating the status of animals, combined with a keen understanding of policymaking and legislative cycles, led to a revolution in animal protection. Today’s modernized public policy and Massachusetts law, which includes the banning of cruel trapping and dog racing—as well as stiffer penalties for people convicted of animal cruelty—can all be traced back to Luke’s efforts.
“In the 1980s trapping was legal in Massachusetts and hundreds of wild animals were crushed every year in leg-hold traps where they died of their injuries or exposure, and I’m proud to have led the MSPCA’s efforts, by way of a successful ballot initiative, to stop the use of these cruel traps in our state,” he said.
Luke also oversaw the MSPCA’s lead role in two other high-profile ballot initiatives. In 2008 the organization led the effort to make Massachusetts one of the first states in the country to ban greyhound racing, a brutal sport in which healthy dogs who cannot win are often euthanized, and dogs who do win often suffer debilitating injuries.
In 2016 Luke, then President of the MSPCA, led the effort to pass Question 3, which mandates that veal calves, laying hens and pregnant pigs must have sufficient room to stand up, sit down, turn around and fully extend their limbs.
Homeless Animals on Cape Cod Win Big
A longtime resident of Cape Cod, Luke worked with the MSPCA’s senior team to cultivate hundreds of donors across the Cape who collectively raised some $3 million to build the all-new, 10,000-foot animal care and adoption center that now stands as a monument to the organization’s legacy of compassion and respect for animals.
Opened in 2018, the facility has become a hub for animal adoptions, dog training classes and essential community services such as low-cost spay and neuter, humane education and more.
Establishing the Connection Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence
In 1996 Luke co-led a research project along with Dr. Arnold Arluke at Northeastern University to study the link between human violence and animal abuse—because until this time no one had researched whether such a connection existed.
The groundbreaking study found that those who abuse animals are much more likely to commit other crimes—from theft to assault to murder—and its findings have been used to strengthen anti-violence laws in states across the country.
“The study confirmed what we knew in our hearts to be true: that violent behavior crosses the species barrier, impacting humans and animals alike. Therefore, we should do everything we can to build an increasingly humane society for the benefit of both people and animals,” said Luke.
Luke also focused the MSPCA’s lobbying efforts to stiffen penalties for those who abuse animals and in 2004 Massachusetts became one of the first states to make animal cruelty a felony. Today, animal cruelty is punishable by up to seven years in state prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
The Crown Jewel of Veterinary Medicine: Angell Animal Medical Center
In 2006 Luke was promoted from head of animal protection to President of the MSPCA-Angell, taking responsibility not just for the animal protection programs he previously oversaw but for advancing the reputation and clinical excellence of the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center.
Today Angell employs over 400 employees including over 100 veterinarians running 16 specialty services spanning ophthalmology, cardiology, dermatology, neurology and more—and treats 100,000 pet patients every year.
For the last five years, Luke has overseen the Angell Centennial Campaign, an ambitious $25 million dollar capital campaign to modernize and expand Angell’s offerings. The campaign has to date brought in $21 million dollars which have been used to install an all-new Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine, a new I-131 suite to treat hyperthyroidism in cats—in addition to modernization of its clinical facilities including the creation of cat-friendly treatment areas.
The campaign has also raised $5 million to permanently endow the MSPCA’s Pet Care Assistance Program to provide financial aid to needy pet owners, and it remains on track to build an all-new, state-of-the-art emergency & critical care unit to replace the hospital’s aging critical care department.
An International Champion for Animals
Luke has balanced his decades-long career at the MSPCA with tireless advocacy across the globe. As President he has overseen operations at the American Fondouk in Fez, Morocco, which was founded in 1927 and provides free veterinary care for working animals owned by Morocco’s poor. He also serves on the Board of World Animal Protection and has traveled internationally since the late 1980s to advocate for the health and wellbeing of animals all around the world.
Defining, and Defined by, the MSPCA’s Core Values
Despite the many evolutions in the animal welfare space in the last three decades, Luke remains most proud of his work to embed the organization’s core values—compassion, integrity, collaboration, excellence, service and positivity—into the MSPCA’s fabric.
“I’m so proud to have led this team for as long as I have, and I know the organization will be in excellent hands as it writes the next chapter of its storied legacy,” said Luke.