On May 18, Stu Bykofsky, a Daily News columnist who regularly reports on animal control in Philadelphia, published a column in which White admitted previous delays and framed them in a specific period of time.
“After first denying the allegations,” wrote Bykofsky, “CEO White admitted that during a 10-day period in February protocols fell apart, a situation that was resolved when Dr. Lee came in and cracked the whip.”
Dr. Rachel Lee is a veterinarian who was brought over from the Erie shelter to fulfill the role of medical director at Hunting Park on March 16, 2009.
Last week, White reiterated that vaccination delays no longer occur and only happened during a specific period of time—though now, White could not recall the exact dates. Or month.
“January and most of February I cannot speak to because I was not here,” White said. “In my knowledge, January and February were fine. There was no problem until, probably mid-April. Well. We can get the dates.” When asked how these multiple stories can reconcile with one another and with records, White replied, “What dates do you have?”
White concluded it must have been a 10-day period just prior to hiring Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee says the shelter follows written protocol that she compiled for Erie in November 2008.
“We comply with the vaccination protocol put out by the American Animal Hospital Association,” said Dr. Lee in a recent interview. “There are certainly cases in which we don’t do that: bite cases, if the animal is incredibly aggressive or incredibly nervous, we give them 24 to 36 hours to see if they’ll handle the environment.”
The two shelters suffered what Dr. Lee called “a scare” (though not a full-blown outbreak) of feline panleukopenia, a parvovirus that targets mostly kittens also referred to as feline panleuk or feline distemper, the weekend of May 16. Feline panleuk is a very common outbreak in shelter environments. Dr. Lee says they did not have to “depopulate” many litters to control the spread of the disease since quick action was taken to quarantine the contaminated animals.
Meanwhile, as rescues continue to report that animals pulled from ACCT are more frequently and severely sick than at other shelters or in the past, White, Board President Harrise Yaron, Board member Shauna Binswanger and Dr. Lee say that they haven’t heard any complaints about unusually sick animals at all.
“I heard nothing other than what I read in the paper,” said Binswanger.
“On Friday, one volunteer approached me about one issue that was resolved in about 30 seconds when I picked up the phone and called Dr. Lee,” echoed White. “So I honestly have not heard anything. And I tend to agree that a lot has been blown out of proportion.”
“At any given time you can take a healthy dog or healthy cat out of here, it can be vaccinated in a timely fashion, you just don’t know what it’s harboring,” said Yaron. “I have rescued dogs that got sick who were well when I picked them up. Unfortunately, we can’t combat that 100 percent of the time.”
Melissa Levy, Director of Development at Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), says the nonprofit still has to nurse the “vast majority” animals they pull out of the ACCT facility.
“Pretty much every dog that we’ve pulled has kennel cough. It’s been the typical kennel cough that you often see in shelters and it responds well and easily to antibiotics, but it’s been pretty much across the board,” said Levy in a recent phone interview.
Levy estimates that PAWS gives antibiotics to about 80 percent of the dogs pulled from ACCT to get them healthy before putting them up for adoption.
There are two major problems when animals coming out of the shelter require nursing and medication. The first is that in a larger rescue outlet like PAWS, the convalescence delay between exiting the shelter and being adopted clogs up the lifelines: For every dog or cat recuperating in a cage on antibiotics, there’s another still caged at either ACCT or Erie waiting for its turn.
The second major problem is the financial burden. More often than not, rescue “organizations” are just a few animal lovers who dedicate their free time and own money to helping homeless animals.
Denise Gareau of Eskies Online, a Boston-based rescue partner that pulls American Eskimo dogs out of shelters all along the Northeast corridor, says she rescued two dogs out of ACCT in the last six months—and the expense almost tanked her small business.
“It’s not only expensive, it’s fatal,” says Gareau. One dog died and the other, Topper, survived—but not before costing Gareau $1,800 in vet services.
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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