The Morris Animal Refuge euthanizes a greater percentage of animals than other Philadelphia shelters. Critics say it doesn't have to be that way.
"If you scribbled in the margin gray kitten, the adoption coordinator automatically rejected your application," Aversa says. Plus, Morris' policy is to never hold a specific animal while an adoption application is being processed. "So we'd bring animals back from the events and they'd be euthanized within a few days," he notes.
DePaul complained that taking the animals to public events was a hassle, Aversa recalls, adding, "What's a hassle--fulfilling your mission?" Aversa says he's mystified by the fact that board members don't expect the adoption coordinator to set goals or implement a strategy for increasing adoptions.
From September 2002 to September 2003, 25 percent of animals coming into Morris were adopted. Since the refuge would not provide PW with statistics, the figure can't be compared to previous years. A June 1987 Inquirer article reported a 30 percent adoption rate at the time.
Animals that aren't quickly adopted face death by lethal injection. During the summer, when more pets are surrendered, an animal's average stay is one week, Haskell says.
In the colder months, dogs and cats may stick around for about two weeks. "But no longer than that," he adds. "They become cage crazy, making them totally unadoptable."
Former staffer Haskell says he agrees that Morris needs to screen applicants for income, pet history and living conditions. But, he stresses, the refuge also institutes capricious policies.
Madeline Harvey adopted her dog from Morris in 2000. After that experience, she began occasionally walking over to Morris during her lunch break, toting along pet toys and food donated by her law firm colleagues. Harvey would then spend an hour or so playing with the animals through the bars of their cages.
During the summer of 2002 a yellow lab mix caught her eye. Harvey says she noticed the dog was exceptionally thin and asked then-new adoption coordinator D'Ingianni if the refuge planned to perform a thyroid test on the dog. Harvey says D'Ingianni "rudely" brushed off her questions and told her to fill out an application if she was interested in adopting.
When Harvey phoned the shelter two days later, D'Ingianni said that Harvey's vet had confirmed her dog was up to date on shots. But because her cats were two months behind for their annual checkup, D'Ingianni denied Harvey's application.
"I offered to pay for any testing and treatment for this dog so that someone else could adopt him," Harvey says. "[D'Ingianni] was very uncaring and obnoxious--stating that, 'There are enough healthy dogs in the world. Who'd want a sick one?'"
The dog was put down the next day.
During a recent interview Harvey recalled her last visit to the refuge. Two men asked about a different yellow lab. But rather than talking up the dog, D'Ingianni said that labs are "a lot of work" and mumbled that they're "inbred and overbred," Harvey says.
"This is not how you get someone to adopt an animal," says Harvey, still outraged more than a year after the incident.
Harvey twice wrote detailed letters to Morris board members, urging them to investigate "negative changes" at the shelter.
She stressed that her confidence in the shelter was so low that she'd removed the Morris tag fastened to her dog's collar years earlier. "Should she ever get lost, I'd never want someone to take her back to that shelter," she wrote.
The refuge has not had a development director since Aversa was sent to the doghouse in September. This year's Fur Ball, the refuge's annual fundraiser, generated a fraction of the partygoers it had attracted in previous years. About 200 people showed up for the event in January, compared to the more than 1,000 attendees in 2003.
"When I arrived, nobody was dancing and nearly all the food had run out," recalls Amy Angelilli. "I felt like I'd paid $40 for a very expensive cracker." However, former board member Hornbeck says that while the event was sparsely attended, it netted profits equal to those raised by Fur Ball 2003.
Whatever money Morris banked, critics say they hope it will be spent on efforts to slash euthanasia rates and expand adoptions.
Geek Invasion 2013