$3m benefactor Frank Samways is a dog's - and the Lost Dogs Home's - best friend

A BIG-HEARTED businessman has left Melbourne's Lost Dogs Home $3 million - the largest bequest in its 100-year history.

Staff at the animal shelter described the donor, Frank Samways, as a man so empathetic for abandoned pets that he wouldn't enter the animal shelter in Gracie Street, North Melbourne.

The home's managing director, Graeme Smith, said Mr Samways, ''a charming, charismatic person'', used to attend donor functions in the home's courtyard. ''But [he] never set foot inside the shelter because he thought it would be too disturbing for him. He didn't want to see any dog or cat incarcerated.''

A lifelong owner of Jack Russell terriers, Mr Samways ''had a wonderful love of animals''.

Mr Samways, of Strathmore, a single man with no children, was a furniture factory owner. Before he died, aged 82, three years ago, he confided to Dr Smith that the home would be a beneficiary in his will. But Dr Smith said the $3 million figure revealed by the executor had floored him.

''He'd said 'I'm worth a bit', but he didn't indicate to me how much.''

The home has used the funds to buy a factory, 50 metres from the Gracie Street complex, to be converted into its new private vet clinic. It will be named after Mr Samways.

Last week the City of Melbourne approved plans for the clinic, which will be three times the size of the current one, with a car park, five consulting rooms, two operating theatres and a waiting room.

The present vet clinic in Gracie Street raises $1 million in income each year. Dr Smith said the new one's larger size and longer opening hours should bring in increased income to save pets' lives.

He said it had a ''beautiful'' position overlooking a fenced dog park that would attract customers. The old vet clinic would be turned into a cat and dog adoption centre.

The home, founded by a group of animal lovers in 1911, gets no government funding. However, Dr Smith revealed that in the past year - apart from Mr Samways's gift - it had received more than $6 million in bequests and donations.

The windfalls have led to a frenzy of development including a $2 million sick and injured animal shelter and a $2 million training and education centre.

And in January the home opened its Lost Cats Home, with 150 cat ''condos'' - glass-fronted, heated cubicles with shelves. Each has an ''en suite'' - cats jump through a hole from the sleeping cubicle to a space with their litter trays.

Dr Smith said that when he started as the home's manager in 1986 ''it was a financial basket case'' facing imminent closure.

But higher standards and public profile, not to mention donors such as Mr Samways, had made the future more secure.

This article $3m benefactor Frank Samways is a dog's - and the Lost Dogs Home's - best friend was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.