It’s been four months since the PSPCA took over the city’s animal shelter system. It’s failing.
“They’re claiming that when they go to see the shelter there’s nothing wrong,” says Boritz. “I’m telling them what to look for and he’s saying, ‘I can’t look for all that.’ Well, it’s your responsibility to look for that.” PSPCA president Yaron says she’s not aware of a problem with delayed vaccinations.
“They’re just covering each other’s asses,” Boritz adds. “That’s what they do. That’s city government.”
Despite reports of sick animals, collapsed shelter protocols and alarmed rescues and staffers, the PSPCA’s self-published progress reports are remarkable: January’s save rate is 72.4 percent and February’s is 80.9 percent, both of which trump PACCA’s 2008 save rate of 60 percent.
No one has challenged PSPCA stats more loudly and consistently than Garrett Elwood, founder of Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia (CNKP), a group started last year that has grown to about 470 members. It was when Elwood started foster-adopting dogs a few years ago—his latest, the 28th, is a spunky pit bull puppy named Damien—that he started learning how animal control worked and bird- dogging the numbers.
Elwood (and others) say that comparing PSPCA’s bottom-line save rates to PACCA’s doesn’t tell the real story, because PSPCA’s numbers are crunched through a complicated formula that balloons the save rate. The live exit number, for instance, inflates by not counting pets killed by owner request.
Insiders say that under PSPCA policy, pet owners can bring in dogs and cats—healthy or not, young or old—and have them put down for a fee. But why would animals killed because of a new policy that endorses euthanasia-on-demand not be weighed the same as those killed for space?
Critics worry most about the animals PSPCA ships over to its shelter on Erie Avenue, an adoption center a mile and a half away also run by PSPCA. These animals—hundreds a month—count in the formula as “live exits,” as successful adoptions, though there’s no way to verify if the animals sent to Erie are adopted or put down. The ACCT database is “open” to the Health Department while the Erie database is closed.
Elwood calls the setup an information firewall.
“All the way down the line, there’s no openness, no transparency, no input. There isn’t any other organization in the city that operates this way,” he says, catching himself, shrugging and huffing out a quick laugh. “Well, that might not even be true, but it shouldn’t be.”
Checking the Balances
Many advocates blame the Health Department for this mess. Elwood—who is adamant that PSPCA fulfill its campaign promise to establish a citizen advisory board—suggests the connection is more sinister.
“[PSPCA] is supposed to answer to the Health Department, but at this stage of the game I think not only is the Health Department not fulfilling their duties in oversight, I think they’re complicit and actively covering it up,” he says, particularly bothered by the blind spot in the records at the Erie Avenue facility.
According to PSPCA, 786 animals were shipped from ACCT to Erie for adoption in January and February. The Erie facility holds about 70 animals. If all of those animals were really adopted out, it would mean that about 13 to 14 animals were adopted each day. Elwood and rescues say the numbers just don’t add up.
Nathan Winograd, a national expert who audited Philadelphia animal control in 2005, echoed Elwood’s concern.
“My fear was that they would ... shift the animals to their satellite shelters and count them as a ‘live release’ even though they ended up dead,” wrote Winograd in an email to PW in February. “This is the game Atlanta Humane Society used to play … they kept two sets of books.”
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PW's Summer Guide 2015