It’s been four months since the PSPCA took over the city’s animal shelter system. It’s failing.
Ultimately, sick animals mean dead animals, even when the rescue succeeds in nursing them back to health. If one dog spends two weeks recuperating at the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)—one of ACCT’s biggest rescue partners, pulling an average of 200 animals a month out of the shelter—it means another dog is stuck back at ACCT where (especially if he’s not small and fluffy, they say) he’s more likely to be put down.
While larger rescue organizations like PAWS have the resources to nurse these animals back to health before letting them out the door to adoptive or foster parents, the convalescence is financially draining. PAWS officials say they don’t budget paying for antibiotics for so many animals at once or for cage space while sick animals heal enough to get neutered and adopted.
Time and space are closing in.
The situation is so grave that some local rescues say they’re going to stop pulling animals from the shelter altogether and instead focus on trapping and rehabilitating animals right off the street.
It’s a depressing development given that just a few months ago, PSPCA was promising to put Philadelphia on track to becoming a “no-kill” city in five years. No-kill cities only euthanize animals as a last resort, not as population control to make space. Now, with anxious rescues turning to street animals and sick animals bogging down the lifelines out of the shelter, the bad news gets worse: Kitten season is just starting and the shelter is already posting notices on Craigslist that it’s full and desperately needs foster parents and rescue partners to take animals off its hands.
Melissa Levy, director of development for PAWS, is not shocked that animals coming from ACCT are sick; it’s the number of sick animals that concerns her. “We’re not saying we should never see a sick animal in animal control. We get it that animals in animal control are sick. But what we have seen is that almost every single animal we’re pulling is sick.
“Their symptoms and duration of illness are much greater than they have to be. What that means for us is that it takes us longer to treat them to get them healthy enough to be adopted,” she says, pointing out that PAWS never puts an animal up for adoption until it is completely healthy. “But it gums our system in terms of our ability to turn over animals and pull more out of there.”
Part of the problem—backed up in records obtained by PW—is that many of ACCT’s animals are not immediately vaccinated upon intake, and in some cases, vaccinations were delayed for up to two weeks. Animals need to receive core vaccinations at intake in order to prevent rabies and common infections like kennel cough and parvo (a potentially fatal virus) in dogs and ciliac, feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), and upper respiratory infections in cats.
“The shelters that I know of will vaccinate the animals as they cross the doorstep,” says Margret Casal, D.V.M., professor of medical genetics at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Even a vaccine given right then and there will protect more than one given a few hours later.” Dr. Casal says that when a diseased animal enters a shelter and is placed with unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated animals, there’s great risk of outbreak.
A Sick Society
Margaret Boritz—the now-banned longtime rescue partner—says she warned administrators about the danger of delaying vaccination, and even went as far as to complain to Izzat “Izzy” Melham, the acting director of environmental health services at Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health. Melham’s in charge of overseeing PSPCA’s contract and investigating operational complaints.
“I never said anything about it except to people I thought would make a difference,” says Boritz. “They just refused to see it and the standards, the protocols never got established,” she adds. “They just stopped listening.”
Melham says he drops in at ACCT unannounced about twice a week to ensure operations are running smoothly. “We have gotten complaints that animals were not being vaccinated in an adequate—on intake, I should say,” he says over the phone. “We investigated it, and if there had been a breakdown in the process—either through staffing or whatever the issues may have been—that has been improved.”
Melham claims the trouble with the vaccinations occurred “around February,” and was due, in part, to Nelson’s departure. “There were some transitional issues that we have worked through.”
But records show delays in vaccination through March.
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Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4