It’s been four months since the PSPCA took over the city’s animal shelter system. It’s failing.
UPDATE: After PW’s cover story ran Wednesday, Councilman Jack Kelly made some remarks about animal control on the floor Wednesday. He then arrived Thursday and delivered an energetic speech citing PW’s research and spiraling conditions for Philadelphia’s animals. Kelly went on to criticize the Nutter Administration and the Health Department for the current chaos and cloudy future of animal control in a full speech accessible here.
Every year, roughly 31,000 animals funnel into the city’s Animal Care and Control Center (ACCT) shelter on West Hunting Park Avenue in North Philadelphia.
This animal shelter is the primary chance homeless animals—mostly stray cats and dogs, and with the recession, more and more house pets—have at living healthy lives and finding new homes. Animal advocates bring them here to save them from sometimes fatal dangers of living on the streets: disease, fighting with wild animals and kidney failure brought on by licking bowls of antifreeze placed on porches as renegade population control.
But now, insiders say, shelter conditions have gotten so bad that animals need to be saved from the very place they go for protection.
Since the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) reassumed Philadelphia’s animal control contract in January, reports of intake backlog, overcrowding, fuzzy numbers and infectious disease outbreaks have oozed out of the shelter in a steady stream.
Insiders allege that shelter conditions and protocol are crumbling. Rescue workers (who regularly pull animals out of the shelter and place them in homes) and volunteers say they’ve never seen so many sick animals come out of the Hunting Park shelter. One foster parent with more than 20 years experience says that in the last few months, all 18 of the kittens she rescued from ACCT have died.
“They might seem fine the day you pull them, but within two weeks, they’re gone,” she says. “My backyard is like a graveyard.”
Misery Behind the Mystery
Stories about degenerating animal care at the shelter have been swirling for months now, but have been slow to reach the public because the people close enough to the shelter to see what’s happening say they are afraid to talk. Many of the rescue workers and volunteers interviewed for this story asked that PW withhold their names for fear of retaliation.
The phrase “Please don’t use my name” was as common as the odd, seemingly paranoid behavior that followed requests for an interview: an urgent call from a gas station pay phone; in-person interviews cancelled at the last second; unfulfilled promises to get back in touch after consulting a lawyer. Mistrust and suspicion coursed through emails and phone calls. Animal control in Philadelphia has taken on a Rosemary’s Baby vibe.
I wouldn’t put it past them to ban me from the shelter, said one source after another.
Interviewees point to blackballed rescuer Margaret Boritz as an example of what can happen when you question or criticize the treatment of animals inside ACCT.
Boritz says she combed the shelter almost every day for animals to rescue until she began criticizing shelter practices and got kicked out. Boritz says she was advised that she was banned from the shelter “pending cruelty charges” on March 15. She says she has not received documentation of the charge.
“I asked too many questions, made too many people uncomfortable, offered solutions to the problems and I got banned,” she says. PSPCA Board President Harrise Yaron says she has no knowledge of a ban or cruelty allegation against Boritz.
Staffers and volunteers report having to sign confidentiality agreements in order to gain access; longtime rescue partners have been locked out of the database; panicked employees worry about members of the board of directors reading their emails. Given Boritz’s situation and tales like that of Dr. Murarka—the PSPCA head vet fired last month after allegedly providing vet services to a kennel under investigation for dog-fighting (PSPCA calls it conflict of interest)—insiders say they’re concerned that the fox is guarding the henhouse.
They’re scared for the animals and for themselves if they speak up. They’re worried that the whole situation’s so politically corrupt that animal welfare will soon backslide into medieval times—which in Philly, was just a few years ago.
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The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide