A "no-kill" expert tries to save the city's animal control contractor from its own worst mistakes.
OK. So when and why did you leave?
I submitted my resignation in 2007. I think I gave a little over two months notice to give PACCA a chance to hire someone to replace me, because I knew that that high-up a position, particularly in the summertime when it’s the busiest time, I wanted to give them every opportunity to find a replacement.
I left because, at the time there was really an air of conflict—not to say it doesn’t exist there now—but there was not a cooperative working environment and I saw that although we had made a lot of changes in the first two to almost two and a half years I was there, I saw myself start to feel as thought I was treading water, and I thought it would be really good if somebody else had the opportunity to come in and start to put up a good fight, a set of fresh eyes.
It was a combination between that and that the opportunity came up where the shelter that we worked at previously, the executive director had taken a job out of state, her husband had moved, and they had not yet found a replacement, so it was kind of a juxtaposition of both things.
What job are you leaving right now?
The Animal Welfare Association.
How would you describe the differences in your new role as CEO of PSPCA and your previous role as COO of PACCA?
The CEO’s role is slightly different, because I see a CEO role, or the executive position, as doing a little bit less of the conducting and hands-on coordination and more of the outward vision, helping build the programs and operations to really stretch and reach for the vision of what the organization wants to be and do. Like at AWA, we have had since 1975 a low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Since I knew that one of the priorities, the vision for this organization was really maximizing the capacity of that clinic, and if I stayed here longer or the new person coming in, I really hope they would continue that by expanding the size of the clinic. So I see that role as a little different because you have to incorporate that outward vision whereas a COO is really concentrating on your operations, how it’s running.
Now that you’re stepping in, it’s baptism by fire. It’s been rocky. As everyone knows, PSPCA severed relationships with other animal welfare organizations, then there’s the vaccination delays and data problems. What are the priorities for the organization right now?
I actually developed a plan for myself for the next year. The thing I did not include on the plan is having the strep zoo situation. For the last two weeks I’ve had my hands full dealing with that, and I’m very happy with the way the staff has really jumped up. We’ve done things and handled things in ways that I don’t think were the way things were done before, so that’s always challenging for staff. But they’ve really stepped up to the plate and were really working their butts off to try to accomplish it without seeing the deaths of a lot of animals.
It’s definitely not perfect, because as you said, you’re coming in sort of on the heels of this chaos, and it’s an organization that has had now leadership change two times—three times if you want to count the transition on December 31—three times in six months, which is very difficult for staff. They’re looking for leadership and they’re looking for direction. So the first thing for me was to help provide some leadership and direction so we could solve the problem that happened with the strep zoo.
The next thing, and something that I’ve been working on in tandem with this, is the contract with the city. They’ve been exceptionally cooperative and open to different ideas that we have to make that happen. Going beyond that, I’ve already started restructuring basically the different departments, I’m taking a look at how things run, how things don’t work, kind of a top-to-bottom analysis, and to do that I’ve really been counting on some outside advice and trying to bring in a few more people come in and assist me with that. Because I kind of have my hands a little full, but I still know that that’s really critical to making any changes.
Who are the external people helping? Are you in contact with Nathan Winograd?
Actually I have worked with Nathan for many years. He is a close friend and a mentor. So he is definitely one of the people I reach out to for advice. And Barry Stupine, who is at the University of Pennsylvania, he is going to be coming on board with the PSCPA after he retires from U Penn in July. In the meantime, he’s been a really valuable for me to turn to, particularly over the financial stuff regarding the organization and the contract. He’s just been a huge help, a huge help. And we’re bringing in two more people this week—I’m not at liberty to say who they are—but they’re experts who will provide us with auditing of the financial operations as well as some of the departmental things that are going on, to try to provide me with a snapshot of what we can do to change things.
Are these going to be new paid positions, or are these people coming on in a board capacity?
No, these are just people who I know who I respect their business acumen who I’ve asked to come in and help.
So they’re volunteering?
Some of them are volunteers, some people we’ve offered to pay them for an analysis. It’s a combination.
Where are we at with the strep zoo situation? Is that completely resolved at this point?
The protocol that has been put into place for treatment by the veterinarians is in the process of being done, so the bacteria actually is killed very rapidly once you start penicillin. I’ve heard it’s as rapidly as they’re not contagious in 24 hours. But we’re still taking every precaution by not mixing the dogs between the shelters; we’re making sure we keep an eye on the animals that we know were exposed for the entire time of their treatment. So it’s good in that we’ve been able to stop the illness and deaths from strep zoo, pretty much as soon as the treatment started. But we still have to monitor them. Because they’re still in that environment, and they’ve been exposed, and it’s a difficult situation in that building, it’s just a high-stress environment. There’s something that made it happen to begin with so we’re being cautious without being overly alarmist.
Since last year, the PSPCA has been working with the city to set up, and transfer animal-control duties to, a new city-related nonprofit called the Animal Care & Control Team (ACCT Philly). ACCT Philly formally takes over the contract and the city-owned animal shelter on April 1.
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Despite Tara Murtha’s assertions to the contrary, Philadelphia’s animals are in good hands at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), the city’s contracted agency to provide animal control services. Contrary to allegations that the facility is “crumbling,” immediately upon taking over the shelter on Jan. 1, 2009, the PSPCA initiated a massive cleanup of the building that included upgrading of the air-handling system, replacement of ceiling tiles, roof repairs and cleaning and fresh painting of surfaces throughout the building. Animals at the PSPCA facility are well cared for; relations with foster care agencies are strong,...
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