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Phoenix Shelter’s Big Secret Revealed
Eponymous donation was a surprise
The Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA

The gift had to be a surprise. Phoenix businessman and philanthropist John Breslow donated $2 million to the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA to construct an adoption center in honor of his wife Sonia on her 60th birthday. And for two long years he kept it a secret.

On Saturday March 3, 2012 John Breslow invited a busload of 80 family and friends to watch Sonia’s reaction (photo, below) to the new adoption center. As soon as Sonia saw her name above the entrance, tears ran down her cheeks. “I love it, I just love it,” she said, smiling in front of the new building. “And John, I love you.” Then the couple’s friends sang “Happy Birthday.” After birthday cake and champagne, John, Sonia and their guests toured the new facility.


John Breslow knew his wife of 37 years was an animal lover. They share a home with two dogs. Sonia reminds John and everyone else in her life that animals don’t have a voice, that’s why we protect them. So after viewing a KPHO television segment that helps local shelter pets find new homes, John contacted Judith Gardner, president and CEO of the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA, about the donation for a new adoption center to be named after Sonia. There was only one string attached: The shelter had to raise an additional $1 million to receive the donation.

John almost gave away his plans for Sonia’s surprise when their beloved Shar-Pei, one of two, became gravely ill and was euthanized. The loss devastated Sonia. John thought the news might soften Sonia’s grief but he remained silent. He was glad he didn’t divulge his secret.

At times, Sonia poked around asking about her pending 60th birthday knowing her husband had something planned. “She’ll never guess in a million years,” he thought. And, of course, Sonia did not.

“The incredible gift couldn’t have come at a better time for the AAWL & SPCA,” Gardner says. “We adopted our more than 3,000 animals last year but we’re at the very limits of our capacity. I hope that when Sonia thinks about this day, her heart will fill with the knowledge that thousands—and I do mean thousands—of homeless animals will have been saved because of her.”

The additional space allows the shelter to double the 3,000 dogs and cats it currently rescues from euthanasia lists at local open-intake shelters. The shelter officially opens to the public in April. All pets adopted from the AAWL & SPCA will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.

A picture of Sonia will hang in the lobby.

The shelter has already begun fundraising for construction of a $400,000 veterinary care center that will offer a low cost spay/neuter clinic to the public. Naming rights are available.

Debra J. White is an award winning freelance writer in Tempe. She serves on the board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, volunteers with the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Sierra Club and at Sky Harbor Airport. She lives with two rescued dogs.

Photos provided by AAWL volunteer Kassy Moon.

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