Board: More Animals Died in PSPCA Care Than Previously Reported

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 19 | Posted May. 26, 2009

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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.

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Comments 1 - 19 of 19
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1. Judy Gross said... on May 26, 2009 at 10:17PM

“"They say the rescues that talk about sick animals are simply biased, trying to tear them down due to personal agendas and lingering allegiances to PACCA."

I'm a board member with Stray Cat Blues and Barry Watson pulls many cats/kittens from the PSPCA for us. I was quoted in several articles as having fostered a total of 24 kittens since the first of the year and losing all 24. Adults I have fostered have been ill as well.
I have no interest in politics or what name is on the door at the shelter. My only concern is for the animals. I love fostering, plain and simple, and my specialty is bottle babies.
Stray Cat Blues is a very dedicated group of volunteers and they have been very supportive in our efforts to help the PSPCA. However there is a limit when each animal we pull from the PSPCA runs up many dollars in vet expenses and ends up spending months and months in our foster homes before they are healthy enough for adoption.
The PSPCA board and the people in charge need to make new vaccination policies in which animals would be vaccinated immediately upon arrival. While that might not stop the spread of disease it would provide some protection. If the board was not aware of all the disease then there is certainly a communication problem between the wonderful PSPCA workers and the folks in charge that needs to be addressed.

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2. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 08:42AM

“Please sign the "No-Kill Mandate"”

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3. Bryan Langlois said... on May 27, 2009 at 08:51AM

“I will admit I have no been inside the Hunting Park Ave building since the takeover, so I have no idea of the medical program actually in place. a shelter vet I will agree that vaccination should be done immediately on intake...preferrably even before the animal gets into the shelter population. Sure there are exceptions to that rule (Severely aggressive, fractious, obviously ill, etc...) but delaying vaccination even those 12 hours at times...well...if the exposure has already occurs...the vaccine really does not do much. As for those that say where are those 30,000 animals going to go...they are absolutely right. There is no way this problem will be solved overnight...or even in 5 years. is the progress towards that goal that is important. I think that is what everyone is looking for...and at least by the stats...are not least not yet.”

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4. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 01:32PM


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5. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 02:45PM

“It is beyond comprehension that the Health Dept. would condone the behavior of calling cats “live releases”, only to be euthanized in another building a couple miles away. Who is telling the truth here? Even the Health Dept is not dumb enough to buy into allowing cats to be called “saved”, and contribute to the “save rate”, to be killed thereafter at another site.

Where are all the PSPCA employees/volunteers who defended the PSPCA administration and board of directors and voiced outrage that anyone would even suggest killing cats after being “transferred to Erie”? Much of the 250+ blogs following the “The (Scary) Truth About Cats and Dogs” were attacks on the author for suggesting that this was even a remote possibility. You felt “tar and feathering” of Tara Murtha would have been appropriate when this story was published.

Speak up folks! You were outraged by the mere suggestion that someone could carry out such a heinous act, especially your beloved PSPCA. Where is your outrage that you served as pawns supporting your leadership, when these were lies from day one? Yes, the PSPCA board now says it must re-do numbers from January. Hmmm…. Anyone want to venture a guess as to which directions these numbers will go??????

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6. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 03:24PM

“Did PACCA/PAWS adjust live release or save rate numbers for deaths post transfer? I applaud the PSPCA for adjusting the numbers and providing more transparency in reporting than ever before (including PAWS). Don't miss the forest (12,000 animals euthanized annually or 31,000 unwanted animals) from the trees (the 100 animals for two months pending adjustment).

The changing stories of vaccinations are suprising, but the facts all get murky here. The story states $300,000 under bidding by the PSPCA. The contract is a 6 month contract and PAWS bid 1.5 million for the 6 month contract and the PSPCA bid 1.45 so the difference is 50,000 not the 300,000 in the article.

I honestly can't blame anyone for not wanting the contract. Who needs all this?

Sadly, the animals suffer while we all blog and fight.”

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7. Anonymous said... on May 27, 2009 at 04:29PM

“Am I to believe that the PSPCA has chosen Sue Cosby as CEO? The PSPCA spent nearly a year tearing PACCA to shreds over the way PACCA executed the animal control contract. As COO, Cosby was the most influential person, the highest level executive, who established and implemented policies reflected in PACCA’s day to day operation. That was her job.

And of course, she will bring back former PACCA staff and employees. That’s exactly what CEOs do and are expected to do.

Is the PSPCA now saying that PACCA had it right all along?

The council hearings should be very interesting, if not entertaining. How is the PSPCA to explain to the citizens of Philadelphia, less than 6 months into the contract, and after trashing PACCA top to bottom, that the former PACCA COO is just what will fix the city’s animal control problem?

Perhaps reality is truly stranger than fiction!

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8. Garrett said... on May 27, 2009 at 04:50PM

“To 11-12. Anonymous

The issue is not the hundreds of animals killed at Erie ave during each of the first three months of the PSPCA running animal control. It's the fact that the PSPCA Board lied to the Public and only under extreme duress and threat of hearings did they change their numbers.

BILL - Talking about PACCA not adjusting numbers of deaths after transfer is a ridiculous statement. First of all that number is nominal and statistically insignificant. Second, PACCA lost the contract right? Third, PSPCA doesn't do this now either. They are only adjusting the numbers of animals WITHIN THEIR OWN ORGANIZATION simply transferred 1 mile up the street to a different building.”

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9. Garrett said... on May 27, 2009 at 05:26PM

“If the PSPCA were open/ honest and transparent the animal welfare community would be able to step in and help, but how can anything be made better when the organization that needs the most help lies about their relative success. A 50% save rate in the slowest time of the year is abysmal.

We need a plan.”

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10. Madras said... on May 29, 2009 at 03:43PM


"Asked who should keep their mouths shut, Yaron says, “The media.” Interim CEO White echoes, “The media and the Garrett Elwoods of the world. No one has stepped up to say, ‘Gee, I’ll do that till you get someone else and I’ll do that best that I can.’”

You HAVE to be kidding me. If the media and the "Garrett Elwoods" -- along with the infamous "DFE's" -- of the world kept their mouths shut, NOTHING WOULD BE CHANGING.

We need the media and the Elwoods of the world to provide the transparency and truth that PSPCA has tried so desperately to hide, for fear it would destroy their donation machine.

We're finally starting to go down the right track -- BECAUSE of the media.”

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11. Anonymous said... on May 29, 2009 at 04:34PM

“So the PSPCA finally gave into the media and admitted shortfalls they had been accused of (not vaccinating animals, finding a weasel way to report save rates, can't get infection under control). Man, what an organization! A lot of fudge slinging on the part of former PACCA types is unfortunate and largely unfounded, but ya gotta admit, they were right about the above 3, I wonder what else.

So basically what went on is PSPCA underbid PACCA for the city contract by $300,000 (now I'm hearing $50,000), took over in January and managed in 5 months to fudge the save rate, lose their CEO, told free neuter/spay from UPENN to hit the road, and have a widespread infection going on that is keeping private rescues away. And now after underbidding PACCA by $300,000 they are now asking for an additional 1million dollars. Lol, now PACCA has them underbid, and with a lot fewer problems and a similar save rate.

From an outsider's perspective, it seems that PACCA managed to do more with less money. I get the sense that behind all the politics what basically happened is the PSPCA thought they were ready to take back the contract, underbid PACCA for it, realized it wasn't as easy as it looked to handle an intake increase from 8,500 to 31,000 and so panicked by fudging numbers and fighting internally. The evidence that the PSPCA doesn't know what to do is they have hired most of PACCA's former staff, and most importantly chose a former PACCA COO to be their new CEO. Something tells me they opened pandora's box and now wish they could go back to when PACCA had the contract. Perhaps they should have increased their intake numbers at a slow pace and worked their way up to 31,000. Then they wouldn't have to look toward former PACCA employees for expertise. Yikes what a mess.”

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12. Garrett said... on May 31, 2009 at 11:56AM

““First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi”

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13. rick said... on May 31, 2009 at 03:22PM

“Anyone can fudge the figures or cook the books.The moment of truth comes when you count the dead animals.If you thought PSPCA is bad look at PETA with atrash bin full of dead animals that no one even tried to explain.”

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14. Liz said... on Jun 1, 2009 at 04:04PM

“People are talking about the adjusted save rate being comparable to PACCA's save rate. But if most of the cats being released to fosters, rescues, and other shelters are dying shortly thereafter -- wouldn't the save rate actually be much, much lower?
I wish there were a way to see the actual numbers, including the animals who die right after leaving ACCT for other organizations and fosters.
I'm guessing their save rate is actually horrifically low when you take those animals into account.”

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15. Liz said... on Jun 1, 2009 at 04:59PM

“Just adding on to my last comment.
I wish the PSPCA people would stop complaining about people "bashing" them. People SHOULD complain when there is a problem this huge, and it's only because of people complaining that anything might be improved. It's not personal; people just want to make things better. And I get the sense most of the posters are already helping by volunteering, fostering, etc.

Ultimately, the heart of the problem in Philadelphia is underfunding. If this city wants that looming 31,000 animals a year to ever go down, they need to have a budget closer to 30 million than 3 million. It's terrible that the city values animals so little -- 3 million is like a half of a penny in government terms.

We need an aggressive city-wide government funded TNR program (trap, neuter, and release for feral cats). We need mobile spay/neuter clinics to get into low income neighborhoods and get people's cats taken care of. We need free, government subsidized clinics to provide neutering and basic care for all Philadelphia pets, 12 hours a day. The problem of over-population is both a financial problem and a cultural problem, so we also need an aggressive public awareness program -- again, funded by the government -- to combat backyard breeding and animal abuse.

Until Philadelphia actually gives its animals enough money to live on, things aren't ever going to be perfect. But the actions of the PSPCA in the last year have made things a lot worse. It's not "bashing" when it's the truth, and said with the best of intentions.”

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16. Anonymous said... on Jun 3, 2009 at 06:30AM

“Re: the supposedly "polarized" animal welfare community... More spin does not equal more members. Yes, the PACCA and PSPCA partisans choke these message boards with their arguments and create blogs containing fantastic (often false) accusations. Ever stop to think it could be just a couple of individuals on each side that do all the postings??

If you took a poll of the folks out there every day walking dogs, fostering sick dogs and baby kittens, promoting adoption events, and just working like mad to get animals out of the shelter alive, the majority would tell you they don't care who runs animal control. We just want it done right!

(And sorry, Garrett is not a "third party". While I applaud his efforts to focus the PSPCA and the City gov't on the goal of no-kill, his attacks on the PSPCA reek of personal vendetta.)

Concerned animal lovers: the #1 way you can help is to GET INVOLVED!! Foster a dog or a litter of kittens. Walk dogs or socialize cats. Help the overworked staff by lending a hand in the office. There's a friendly, supportive group of volunteers ready to show you the ropes and make volunteering a fun experience. Regardless of who's in charge, it's the volunteers that GET THINGS DONE!”

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17. Lynne said... on Jun 3, 2009 at 09:40AM

“I agree with the previous poster. Garrett will never be effective at anything until he learns to communicate like a grown-up. In the mean time I must admit I do find him very entertaining. Garrett you are truly a legend in your own mind!”

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18. Anonymous said... on Jun 15, 2009 at 10:07PM

“I know Sue very very well, I have known her since she started at AWA. She has improved AWA's adoption numbers greatly, and PACCA was not a good place to be. Please don't talk about Sue and PACCA unless you know the full story, but I just know she will be a great influence on the PSPCA and she will impress you all”

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19. Beth Treisner said... on Jun 20, 2009 at 09:49PM

“"...says Yaron. She says rescues who claim the animals are unusually sick are “unreliable.”
Like Judy Gross, my mother has a rescue agency - Treetops Rescue - that has worked with the PSPCA and PACCA before, and now - especially after the recent quarantine - simply cannot afford to be taking animals for them because of the alarmingly high rate of VERY sick animals. Most rescues are non-profit and are foster based and neither fact is very conducive to caring for a very sick and sometimes contagious animal (as most of our foster parents have one or more animals themselves). I firmly believe that the vast majority of these rescues are NOT interested in the politics of the PSPCA or intensely against them and "for" PACCA - they simply care about the welfare of these animals and because of the problems with the PSPCA as of late, it simply makes more sense to spend their time, money and resources on other rescue animals.”


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