An activist wants to know what is wrong with Philadelphia animal control.
My name is Barry Watson and I pull cats from the Hunting Park intake facility. I have done so since Hunting Park became the city’s unwanted animal intake facility over six years ago. I am not closely tied to PACCA, PAWS, ACCT or the PSPCA. I have ties to an animal intake facility and am indifferent to the name on the sign at 111 E. Hunting Park. I have pulled over 1000 cats, as many as 2000, from Hunting Park. Since PAWS implemented the PetPoint database two years ago, and complete intake/transfer records were maintained and available for review, I have pulled 850-plus cats.
In late 2008, when the city’s contract was awarded to the PSPCA, I was assured by Natalie Smith and the RFP that nothing would change with regard to pulling cats for 501c3 rescue partners, acquiring veterinary services and maintaining a network of foster homes for whom I would pull at-risk kittens until old enough for sterilization and return for adoption. The truth, however, is that everything changed in 2009.
The PSPCA has failed me miserably since January 1. Virtually every program that allowed me to pull high volumes of cats from Hunting Park is gone. Baby kittens have been dying by the dozens and virtually all adult pulls have come down with the calici virus or other serious upper URIs.
Going back over six years, to the day I pulled my first cat from Hunting Park, I have never experienced more widespread illness, infecting almost every cat pulled, than I’ve experienced in just the first four months of 2009. Had I experienced mortality rates like this in 2003, I would not have returned in 2004. It is important to point out that the ACCT Lifesaving Staff is fully aware of these problems and has made every effort to implement effective changes, but kittens continue to die and adults get terribly sick.
In all likelihood, the PSPCA will brush this off and simply refer to me as another “disgruntled” PAWS rescue partner, ignoring the fact that I was pulling cats from Hunting Park three years before PAWS was created. The verifiable truth is that I pulled over 150 cats from ACCT in the first three months of 2009 (an effective rate of 600 cats/year), hardly that of a “disgruntled PAWS partner.”
When it comes to the most “at-risk” bottle-feeders, I take the majority. ACCT Life Saving staff will concur and substantiate. But that changed dramatically a month ago when my most experienced foster home, with 20 years experience, lost 24 of 24 kittens age three weeks and younger. She will no longer accepts animals pulled from ACCT. Another 501c3 rescue, located in Bluebell PA, for whom I’ve pulled over 100 kittens in past years, will no longer accept kittens from ACCT.
And for the older kittens and adults that have survived, many have continued on antibiotics for over two months and still are not healthy enough to be adopted. And the promised spay/neuter services for rescue partners are no longer available. Here is an excerpt from the PSPCA RFP, posted on pspca.org. It is very specific about what a rescue partner should expect. It says that the PSPCA will:
“Provide medical care, food, and spay and neuter surgeries for our rescue and foster partners”
This needs no clarification. In 2008, PAWS teamed up with U of P veterinarians and students on Saturdays at Hunting Park for high volume spays/neuters. In 2008, I had 200 sterilizations done without a single death, not even a complication. Every Saturday, PAWS would allocate 75 spay/neuter slots for foster/rescue sterilizations. Since I work, like most others, these services had to be provided over the weekend, otherwise they’re of little value. Most shelter animals were sterilized during the week, keeping Saturday available for foster returns and rescue partners.
But this relationship was allowed to dissolve, while the U of P and its participating veterinarians and students remain idle with respect to the Hunting Park intake facility. The PSPCA has not sterilized a single cat for me in 2009.
Many questions have been asked of the PSPCA regarding these and other issues. But the PSPCA administration has retreated and gone silent, except for an occasional press release which does little more than reiterate the PSPCA mission statement. The questions will not go away. The PSPCA can continue to drive away rescue partners and foster homes by eliminating services that have been promised. But the Philadelphia Daily News, Inquirer and Philadelphia Weekly, along with groups of concerned citizens, the ACCT Advisory Council and City Council will not go away.
Sooner or later, the PSPCA will need to answer questions regarding claims of providing more and better resources to the unwanted animals of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it will likely require city council hearings and the circus atmosphere thereof to get answers to these questions.
While the PSPCA claims “more than 40 rescue partners” pulled animals from the ACCT facility in January 2009 alone, ACCT Life Saving staff laments an apparent wide-spread defection of rescue partners as it desperately seeks foster space for 30 litters of kittens. Never have I seen 30 litters of kittens at Hunting Park at any one time. We’re only at the very beginning of kitten season. The true onslaught of nursing moms with kittens and bottle feeders is yet to come. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But there is no question that every concern expressed, especially regarding sick cats, started in 2009.
Nothing drives away rescue partner/foster homes faster than sick cats. If rescue partners and foster homes continue to pull animals that become extremely ill, and some die, they will soon become former partners. You can go through this cycle only so many times, before you say enough is enough. The two primary 501c3 rescue groups, along with a network of foster homes, for whom I pulled 100’s of cats every year, have said “no more”. The financial and emotion toll has become too much to bear. I have been pulling cats from Hunting Park for over six years. In less than four months, I have lost my primary outlets and have been essentially shut down. My capacity to pull at-risk animals has little to do with me. 501c3 rescue groups and fosters homes who fostered kittens with the intent of returning to Hunting Park for sterilization and adoption, have quit. They will no longer take kittens/cats animals from Hunting Park.
But while rescue partners and foster homes struggle to deal with one sick or dying cat after another, the PSPCA talks of achieving record “live release” numbers.
Regardless of what formula is used to calculate “live release” data, as it applies to animal control in the city of Philadelphia, any reasonable person would agree that if an animal doesn’t leave both the Hunting Park and Erie facilities alive, it is not a “live release” and should not be a feather in the cap of Philadelphia animal control, regardless of who is captaining the ship.
It is abundantly clear that “live release” statistics are intended to be confusing. When self-proclaimed PSPCA supporters were asked about this “live release” data, they responded that it was the same formula that PACCA/PAWS used. Since when did the PSPCA raise up PACCA/PAWS as a shining example for doing anything? If PACCA/PAWS inflated “save rates,” does that make it acceptable for PSPCA to do the same? While I would dispute that the calculations done by the PSPCA are the same as PACCA/PAWS, it is completely irrelevant. PACCA is gone.
There is no acceptable reason to calculate “save rates” as being anything but the numbers of animals that are no longer the property of the PSPCA and were alive at the time of transfer. The fact is that an animal can be transferred from Hunting Park to Erie Avenue, euthanized at Erie, and yet remains a positive addition to the city’s “live release” rates. Perhaps the PSPCA should relocate the Hunting Park euthanasia room to the parking lot, thereby claiming a 100 percent save rate.
Is this how Philadelphia will some day become a no-kill city? Killing unwanted animals is horrible, although inevitable. Does anyone think the animal loving citizens of Philadelphia really care where the procedure takes place? And just because an animal is euthanized in one building instead of the other, does that mean the cat falls into the “live release” category? What kind of game is this? Statistics are posted on pspca.org for everyone who cares about Philadelphia’s unwanted animals to see. What do you think the “live release” would mean to most concerned citizens?
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