Who is Zoe McCrea?

Sacramento businesswoman is friend to all animals

By Cathryn Rakich
November 2021

If you’ve driven down Folsom Boulevard—right at 60th Street—you’ve passed the Zoe K. McCrea Feline Sanctuary, a two-story cat habitat at Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary.

If you’re a Sacramento SPCA supporter or have recently taken your pet to the SSPCA spay/neuter clinic, you’re familiar with the new Zoe K. McCrea Animal Health Center.

Unlike other big benefactors in Sacramento, McCrea might not be a name you recognize. But it’s time you did.

“Zoe’s impact on the Sacramento SPCA and the animals in our communities can be measured in years—decades, actually—and in lives,” SSPCA CEO Kenn Altine says.

Born in Sacramento, McCrea still lives in the house where she grew up. Throughout the years, she has given a loving home to 23 rescue cats. “I grew up with animals. My mom was very much into animals. They’ve always been a part of my life,” McCrea says.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and master’s in environmental planning from Sacramento State. She worked in the Reagan administration and took a position as executive officer with the California Resource Conservation Commission.

Next, McCrea went to work for the California Division of Mines and Geology, where she was in charge of implementing the Service Mining and Reclamation Act passed in 1975 to minimize the environmental impact of mining. Along the way, she received a Resources Agency Fellowship Grant from the Brown administration and a German Marshall Fund Grant to study mined land rehabilitation in Western Europe.

In 1979, McCrea’s career trajectory took a dramatic turn. She embarked on a cruise to Alaska with her mother and two young sons. “That began the next chapter in my life,” McCrea says.

“It was just supposed to be an opportunity to vacation together. But after taking the cruise, we all fell in love with it. Mom and the kids wanted to do more than one cruise a year. But cruising at that time was very expensive and would be hard on my budget.”

A cruise representative suggested she organize a group, and the cruise agency would offset her costs. “I ran a small ad in the paper and ended up taking 63 people to Alaska on my first group.” Zoe’s Cruises & Tours was born.

By 1990, the business had grown to six groups a year—some in the hundreds. “I knew I had to make a decision. I left the Division of Mines and Geology, and went full time with Zoe’s Cruises & Tours.”

By 2000, after both sons had graduated from college, she had to make a choice. “I had so many offers to buy Zoe’s Cruises & Tours. Was I going to sell and do something else? Or was I going to turn Zoe’s Cruises & Tours into the funding mechanism for animal welfare?”

The McCrea 2000 Trust was established. “Beginning in 2000, every penny of profit from Zoe’s Cruises & Tours went into the trust,” she says. For 20 years, McCrea provided millions of dollars to animal welfare organizations across the U.S., as well as Costa Rica, Mexico and Bulgaria.

“It has enabled me to do what I always wanted to do with regard to animal welfare,” explains McCrea, who served on the SSPCA Board for nine years. “It’s been a journey. Not one that I planned. Just one that kind of evolved.”

After four decades of exploring the world, McCrea sold Zoe’s Cruises & Tours earlier this year. She no longer has business profits to put into the trust. But with ample capital left, she plans to continue to support specific organizations, such as the SSPCA and Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary, to which she’s made long-term commitments.

“We are grateful for the grants and many donations Zoe has given Happy Tails, as it has allowed us to give hundreds of cats, who were not adoptable at the time, a second chance at life,” says Becky Maclay, past board president of Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary.

For the SSPCA, McCrea’s priorities are to expand the “community cat” feral program and create a more progressive feline environment that “gives the cats a whole different sense of comfort, but also allows people who want to adopt a better opportunity to introduce themselves to the kitties,” McCrea explains.

“I have never,” Altine says, “met anyone who so deeply cares for animals like Zoe does.”

SSPCA Animal Health Center Now Open

The Sacramento SPCA Zoe K. McCrea Animal Health Center has created a new standard in the community’s ability to care for animals.

The 10,000-square-foot health center, which includes a 6,400-square-foot spay/neuter clinic, is expected to increase the SSPCA’s low- and no-cost spay/neuter procedures by 38 percent—to 23,000 surgeries a year. With additional equipment and staffing, the center has the capacity to perform 36,000 surgeries annually.

“The clinic could not have been built without Zoe,” SSPCA CEO Kenn Altine says.

The $4.8 million health center has four surgical suites, two dental suites, spacious prep and recovery areas, and roomy check-in/waiting rooms for the public. The center includes the Kristan Otto Shelter Medicine Program for sick and injured animals, an isolation ward, and examination, laboratory and treatment spaces. The new facility expands the SSPCA’s low-cost vaccine and wellness clinics.

“I recall many discussions on the board 20 years ago about the critical need for an expanded medical capability,” McCrea said at a recent open house, attended by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty and Councilmember Katie Valenzuela.

“As I toured the center with Kenn last week,” McCrea added, “observing multiple surgeries in progress, experiencing a health center with state-of-the art equipment and sophisticated physical recovery areas, with each patient having a different life story—which tugged at my heart—I couldn’t help but reflect on how far we have come in the last two decades.”

For information on wellness clinics, spay/neuter appointments, vaccinations and microchips, visit sspca.org.

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at crakich@surewest.net. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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