She was reclusive, 98 years old when she died in 1996, a widow for four decades with no children, razor-thin, a fan of old-time Hollywood actresses, a frugal person who slept on her sofa and wore homemade dresses.
Jeanette Snyder also loved a succession of dogs and mourned the loss of her last one, a black poodle named Gift, which died a few years before her demise.
She never visited, volunteered or knew anyone at the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at 3300 Falls Road, as far as is known. So it was more than a small surprise when the 128-year-old agency learned that Snyder left it her entire estate, amounting after interest to $1.4 million.
The agency announced yesterday that it is operating a renovated Jeanette Snyder Kennel Facility, creating a dog run, doubling the cat cages to 80 and improving facilities for dogs, cats and the people who help them. The yearlong enhancements are done, costing more than $500,000.
"It's pretty incredible," said Deborah L. Thomas, SPCA executive director. "It's a ton of money. The place was clean but was falling apart. We're using the money to fix it up and have an endowment for the future."
Did she know it was coming? "No warning," she said. "I never met Mrs. Snyder. We do know her dogs were the things that made her happiest in life. Perhaps it was just name recognition -- she knew what we do here. We're very grateful."
Snyder's husband, who was involved overseas in oil exploration, died in the 1950s, said a friend who declined to be identified. The widow's estate was largely built from his and her investments in the stock market, the friend said.
The widow, who liked to read about actresses such as Jean Harlow, Marion Davies and Joan Bennett, died Dec. 12, 1996, at Charlestown Retirement Community.
She lived frugally and reclusively the last six years of her life at Charlestown and her privacy was respected, said Mel Tansill, a spokesman there. She had lived in Towson before that.
Four people, including a representative from Charlestown, attended her funeral at Loudon Park Cemetery.
Her money has led to better soundproofing of dog cages, benefiting dogs and cats; rebuilding eroded spots on the hilly site; improving heating; replacing rusty fences; creating offices for the staff of 16 full-time and two part-time workers; and providing new entrances for people coming to adopt animals and people dropping them off.
"We can now adopt more and euthanize less," said Thomas. "Shelters can be depressing places. Mrs. Snyder's money has made it a healthier, safer, quieter home. People like to come more often now and the animals are already happier."
The agency placed in adoptive homes 2,200 dogs and cats last year, below the 2,600 in 1996 and 1995, because of "improved practices and stricter policies," Thomas said.
But the number of animals surrendered to the SPCA increased to 8,100 last year, up from 7,500 in 1996 and 6,100 in 1995. Last year, in painless euthanasia, it had to kill more than 6,000 unwanted animals that were given a sedative and an injection followed by cremation.
The Maryland SPCA was founded in 1869 to prevent cruelty to animals and neglect of animals and to foster humane relationships between animals and people.
xTC Besides adoption, the nonprofit group provides low-cost spaying and neutering, obedience training and pet behavior advice.
Pub Date: 5/22/98