Can Sue Cosby Turn PSPCA Around?

A "no-kill" expert tries to save the city's animal control contractor from its own worst mistakes.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Jun. 18, 2009

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Can Sue Cosby's leadership help save kitties like this one from disease and abandonment?

Photo by Jesse Lundy

It’s been a bad year for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -- but not as bad as for Philadelphia’s homeless animals.

After fighting tooth and nail for Philadelphia’s animal control contract, the PSPCA won a six-month contract that began January 1. Then, as controversy haunted the organization all over Pennsylvania, CEO Howard Nelson suddenly resigned and vanished into the ether, leaving the job in the hands of the part-time volunteer board. Then animals reportedly got so sick rescue partners began to refuse to accept more cats or dogs from the shelter.

PW reported on rescue organizations’ allegations of sick and dying animals, ongoing vaccination delays -- and questioned the real outcome for cats and dogs shipped from the shelter on Hunting Park Avenue in North Philadelphia to one a couple miles away on Erie Avenue: Were all of those animals actually adopted? Or were some euthanized, then not calculated into the final save rate?

After the story ran, Councilman Jack Kelly reamed out the Philadelphia Health Department, overseer of the contract, and called for public hearings to investigate mismanagement of the contract.

After writing a public letter denying the allegations, interim CEO Beth Ann White copped to vaccination delays just as extremely contagious virus feline panleukopenia ripped through the shelters. Eventually, the board admitted that some of the animals transferred from Hunting Park to Erie Avenue were indeed euthanized at Erie; officials promised re-calculate January and February live release and save rates to become “more accurate.”

Meanwhile, "rescues" such Barry Watson began to emerge from behind the cloak of anonymity. Most of the rescue partners and organizations who spoke about the failing health of the animals and deteriorating shelter conditions had requested to remain anonymous, citing fear that PSPCA would vindictively ban them from the shelter. Watson said enough was enough, because almost all of the animals they were pulling from the shelter were dying.

Then came the “strep zoo,” an infection that swept through the shelter, killing some dogs. The hearings called by Councilman Kelly for June 9 was postponed until September. PSPCA’s contract with the city expires June 30. And the board finally hired a CEO: To the shock of many, after criticizing former contractor Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association at nearly every opportunity, PSPCA's board hired Sue Cosby, PACCA's former chief operating officer.

Baptism by fire, shit storm, train wreck: These are the nice ways to describe the situation that Cosby is hurling herself into.

Earlier this week, Cosby talked with PW about her role at PSPCA, her vision for the city’s animal control, and what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Have you begun as CEO of PSPCA yet?

I’m putting two days a week in New Jersey just because I had to start my job at PSPCA quickly and wasn’t able to give adequate notice, so I’m juggling to the two.

How long will that go on for?

Either until they hire my replacement or until the end of this month… I have to leave anyway, and by working two days as week it’s about what it would have been if I had given them a couple weeks notice, so we’re just spreading it out.

What’s your history in Philadelphia animal control?

In Philadelphia, I’ve been in this area for several years. In 2004, I was watching the articles that Stu Bykofsky had done for PACCA at that time, and I had come to the conclusion at my previous job—I was an assistant to the director at a shelter and I wanted to make a move. I hadn’t necessarily planned specifically to go into animal control, but I followed the articles with tremendous interest and the City Council hearings and when they did make an announcement that they were seeking an executive director, I applied. I ended up not getting the executive director job but I was hired as the chief operating officer. I started in June 2005.

What were your duties as the COO of PACCA back then?

The COO is basically responsible for being both knowledgeable as well as orchestrating all of the different facets of the operation. So in that facility, we had everything from the basics—everything from cleaning the bathrooms to cleaning the animals to just maintaining everything, all the way up to the field services, shelter medicine and clinic services. As COO you have to really have a very general knowledge about a lot to do with sheltering and you have to be able to be very bold in learning different things that you’re not familiar with, because you have to coordinate and orchestrate all those different departments so they’re working together.

So it was really liaising and logistics?

Yes, a lot of just really—some people call it like being the glue holding the different departments together that have competing ideas of how things should be done, or the conductor of the orchestra helping everything happen together.

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. CatSitter said... on Jun 19, 2009 at 06:19AM

“What a no-nonsense well-spoken person. I am a volunteer at the PSPCA and have already seen some great changes (like making space for more adoptable cats, staff accountability, etc). There are so many good staff persons doing their best and all they need is leadership. I think Ms. Cosby will do a great job!!!!”

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2. Beth Treisner said... on Jun 20, 2009 at 10:05PM

“As I said in an comment to an earlier article, I don't believe that most rescues will hold a grudge with the SPCA. It is about the animals. When the PSPCA is finally back on track and there are less severely ill animals coming out of the shelter - if they reach out to the rescues - most, if not all will likely begin working with them. Reading the interview with Ms. Cosby certainly has helped to put my mind at ease. I certainly hope, and am inclined to believe, that she is a very good person for the position, and I wouldn't be suprised if from this point on things will keep getting better.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jun 24, 2009 at 09:35AM

“Where is Tammy Kerr? I miss her ridiculous and incoherent ramblings on these animal blogs. Maybe Ms. Cosby will hire Tammy back because of her lengthy experience as an animal cruelty agent. What was it? Two weeks of training and three months on the job?”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 4, 2009 at 03:10PM

“to anyone who is already starting to fall in love with cosby just you wait until she starts pushing off all her no-kill b.s. and see how long you love her for after animals are being sent out the door with god knowes who”

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5. Amanda St. John said... on Aug 7, 2009 at 03:17PM

“To Anonymous...
(who doesn't have the courage of her convictions to post her real name.)

I and the No-Kill community stand behind every no kill effort Sue Cosby proposes. An animal "pushed out the door with god knowes(sic) who" is an animal saved. I seriously doubt that she won't find out if the person is capable of owning and caring for a dog or cat before she lets him go. But do you honestly think that animals in kill shelters, little cages of filth and loneliness are better off there than 99.9% of the homes on offer? Perhaps you are of the conviction that they are better off dead than in a home that is not "perfect" according to some unrealistic ultruistic standards? .
Read Nathan Winograd's book Redemption. Get your facts straight and start working WITH us for animals. I know for one as a rescue group, that I and others will do everything we can to help no kill shelters.

Amanda St. John
MuttShack Animal Rescue


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