More About PSPCA: Cats Are Dying

An activist wants to know what is wrong with Philadelphia animal control.

By Barry Watson
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted May. 26, 2009

Share this Story:

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 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 for everyone who cares about Philadelphia’s unwanted animals to see. What do you think the “live release” would mean to most concerned citizens?

Page: 1 2 |Next
Add to favoritesAdd to Favorites PrintPrint Send to friendSend to Friend


Comments 1 - 14 of 14
Report Violation

1. Anonymous said... on May 30, 2009 at 06:10AM

“"Perhaps the PSPCA should relocate the Hunting Park euthanasia room to the parking lot, thereby claiming a 100 percent save rate."

LOL - I bet they thought of that!”

Report Violation

2. Michelle said... on May 30, 2009 at 07:48AM

“Thank God for the people working within the PSPCA shelters to get these animals out alive.”

Report Violation

3. Anonymous said... on May 30, 2009 at 10:00AM

“The PSPCA fought long and hard for this contract and caused PACCA to disband as a result. To think they might pull out now because they didn't know what they were getting into is deplorable. They need to grow up and deal with what they bargained for, not skip out like some irresponsible kid. They owe the city's animals at least that much.”

Report Violation

4. Beth said... on May 30, 2009 at 08:25PM

“It will take our shelter system (whoever runs it) a long time to recover from our well-earned reputation of sending seriously sick animals out into the communities. We keep the local vets in business. This is the quickest way to deplete our rescue groups and scare off the citizens who adopt from us.

Medical oversight, spay/neuter, and rigorous management of animal health are top of the list for the current and future organization.”

Report Violation

5. Anonymous said... on Jun 1, 2009 at 03:41PM

“Barry Watson,
Thank you so much for writing this article, and for the work that you do.”

Report Violation

6. Lana Ernest said... on Jun 3, 2009 at 10:18AM

“it is horrifying to read of the treatment these poor cats are receiving, the mayor has to focus on this problem till it can be resolved humanely. The suffering of these poor cats is beyond comprehension. As sensitive as I am to the plight of these poor cats, I would want to hold them and let them know someone really and truly loves them.”

Report Violation

7. Anonymous said... on Jun 3, 2009 at 11:47AM

“ACCT seems to fail and the only things that are absolutely essential to a city shelter; maintaining rescue partners and aggressive spays and neuters.

Maintaining good relationships with rescues takes much of the burden off the shelter and frees up room for the constant influx of intakes. There's nothing like ill animals, dishonesty and secrecy to turn off dedicated rescuers which leaves the city to deal with all of them animals themselves.

The only other essential is an extremely aggressive spay and neuter policy. By not offering these services to formal rescues or even individuals who find strays and abandoned animals they are guaranteeing that next season the influx of animals will be even greater. No worries though, apparently they can just ship them over to Erie to be euthanized. There is no way that with this economy their save rates are any higher then PAACA's, they're definitely screwing with the numbers to placate a largely uninterested public.

Oh well, like anything in Philadelphia the bid process is a highly politicized one so there is no doubt that there will be a brand new organization to run the city shelter in a few years time. The last contract was yanked from PAACA mid-term even though PAACA was finally showing improvement. Too little too late? Or some plum donations and back dealing with the administration on ACCT's part? Like we really have to wonder. Hopefully the next group to take over animal control will have a faster learning curve then the previous two.”

Report Violation

8. Pat said... on Jun 4, 2009 at 04:29AM

“In spite of all the problems, PACCA did a hell of a good job with what they had to work with. I cried the day they had to turn over the keys. I was a foster parent for them, helped out with the spay/neuter clinics, and their TNR's. Since taking over the contract, PSPCA has fired its head vet and its CEO. There is still almost noone who can tell you anything about services. A cat I had in their care for what we thought was a cold, turned out to have a broken jaw, was fed dry cat food every day (over 10 days), and nearly died. My friend paid a $1300 bill at the PSPCA and then when we were told he was fine to come get him, was down to 4.5 lbs with a serious infection and had to be taken to another Vet that night . That Vet ultimately save his life along with my friend and I giving around the clock nursing care and IV's(to keep down the cost of which we paid another $800. The PSPCA's only solution was to euthanize him. I am very happy to say, that today he the most beautiful 14 lb cat with gorgeous 2.5 inch fur and a lush plumey tail. Don't get me started on the "save" rates. Anyone who ever helped at PACCA knew what was happening at the PSPCA by the 2nd week of their take-over. I can't even think about donating to them ever again. The last thing they care about is Philadelphia's animals. #1 is the nice check they get wevery month!!! Where is Cheryl Erickson now? Why isn't she demanding answers...she is/was on the Board. I could go on and on but it would get more depressing!

Report Violation

9. Anonymous said... on Aug 13, 2009 at 02:43PM

“Thank you for the work that you do! I don't live in PA, however came across the PSPCA on craigslist and was very sad over the numerous litters that were waiting to be fostered. Keep up the great work and even though the shelter may be letting you down, don't give up on the kittens that need a chance.”

Report Violation

10. ANNE TAYLOR said... on Feb 14, 2010 at 01:42AM

“Thank you for writing this article, it has shed light on ACCT/PSPCA for me.
I am a foster with Hunting Park, working on my second batch of kittens and Mom. From the time I left there with both groups, I returned repeatedly for treatment (uri). Many different antibiotics, some worked some didn't. I live 45 minutes away.
I needed help with a 2lb kitten just spayed today 2/13 she needs to be placed with another foster for 5 days until recovered then go to placement. Also the Mom needs placement. 3 days after I called and left messages ( 3 messages) I received a return call. I explained my situation and need and pleaded for help with the kitten and mom. I offered to cover expenses for the Mom until I move and would like to reclaim her. "no we don't do that" I was told to "DROP THEM OFF AT ERIE AVENUE" and " no guarantee the mom wouldn't be euthanized" I asked if ACCT could contact another foster for help. "no" I did ask if I was the only fosterer for Hunting Park? Thank”

Report Violation

11. Cat lover said... on Mar 12, 2010 at 07:04AM


I notified the police dept. about a cat at 20th and Kimble in South Philly that is caught on the roof. The police might have notified someone but it is still up there. Can you see if something can be done before it dies from starvation. Or if you can let me know who to contact to rescue it. It would greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

Report Violation

12. ss said... on Apr 7, 2011 at 09:24AM

“What's the status of this facility? Are the cats still sickly and dying? Is it safe for rescues to pull again?

Report Violation

13. Linda Dann said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 01:25PM

“I started to feel it was me- I too lost kittens right and left this year and past years- during kitten season this past year- no nothing changed- and during the year that you bravely and I hope not thanklessly write- there were not enough meds at ACCT!
Now that PSPCA has pulled out of their 'big save' staff still do not know what the hell will happen- just as previously. Look- we have to continue- this year ACCT lost another solid cat rescuer- and I have (or so I say) stopped taking kittens as I've felt like the angel of death- I fall in love- then they die!!
It's a nightmare- however those of us who do this know- very little in life pays back in joy what seeing one of these unfortunates get a good home. Peace, and thanks.”

Report Violation

14. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2012 at 09:38AM

“no matter what at the end o f the day or any time my cats and dog loves me they dont ask for much some love, attension and to fill there little bellies up but then life is so cruel fo alot of them. they dont even have a clue whats going on,and they still will trie to kiss u or rub up aganst u why? how can people b so cold an cruel come on trie to have a heart out there they feel and have feeling too.”


(HTML and URLs prohibited)

Related Content

Is Philly's Animal Control Finally Under Control?
By Tara Murtha

Since last year, the PSPCA has been working with the city to set up, and transfer animal-control duties to, a new city-related nonprofit called the Animal Care & Control Team (ACCT Philly). ACCT Philly formally takes over the contract and the city-owned animal shelter on April 1.

RELATED: City's Animals in Danger—Again Update: PSPCA’s “Population Break” Plan

Related Content

The (Scary) Truth About Cats and Dogs
By Tara Murtha

Insiders say Philadelphia shelter conditions have gotten so bad that animals need to be saved from the very place they go for protection. UPDATE: Councilman Jack Kelly's speech citing PW's cover story.

RELATED: Off the Beaten Path Pit Bulls in Pain

Related Content

Dog Day Afternoon
By Tara Murtha

Philadelphia's turned yet another page in our gruesome ongoing struggle for humane animal control. Late Monday, the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA) lost the contract for anim...

Related Content

Letters: Fur Keeps

Despite Tara Murtha’s assertions to the contrary, Philadelphia’s animals are in good hands at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), the city’s contracted agency to provide animal control services. Contrary to allegations that the facility is “crumbling,” immediately upon taking over the shelter on Jan. 1, 2009, the PSPCA initiated a massive cleanup of the building that included upgrading of the air-handling system, replacement of ceiling tiles, roof repairs and cleaning and fresh painting of surfaces throughout the building. Animals at the PSPCA facility are well cared for; relations with foster care agencies are strong,...

Related Content

Board: More Animals Died in PSPCA Care Than Previously Reported
By Tara Murtha

Two weeks away from a City Hall investigational hearing called by Philadelphia City Councilman Jack Kelly to drill into the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA)’s mismanagement of Philly’s animal control contract, the PSCPA is coming clean on euthanasia and save rate statistics.

RELATED: Worried Sick

Related Content

Can Sue Cosby Turn PSPCA Around?
By Tara Murtha

Baptism by fire, shit storm, train wreck: These are the nice ways to describe the situation that Sue Cosby -- the new CEO of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -- is hurling herself into. Earlier this week, Cosby talked with PW about her new role, her vision for the city’s animal control, and what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Related Content

Michael Vick Comes To Philly
By Tara Murtha

The Michael Vick signing has stirred outrage among animal-loving Eagles fans. But this city is already one of the worst in the nation for homeless animals. Will Philadelphians put their money where their mouse is?

RELATED: A Mixtape For Michael Vick Breed-Specific Banning? Not A Chance

Related Content

Meeting of the Minds
By Tara Murtha

Philadelphia’s animal advocates have been meeting once a month since last fall, obstensibly to try to fix an animal control plan that’s been unraveling at the seams. Despite the crisis, the direction is still unclear.

Related Content

Calling All Dog Lovers: Emergency at PSPCA Shelter
By Tara Murtha

PSPCA plans to pack the dogs into crates and stack them in "temporary emergency housing in the garages at the Erie Ave. facility," according to an email sent from PSPCA to their network of volunteers and rescues.

Related Content

Ex-PSPCA CEO Now VP at Doggie Style
By Tara Murtha

Everyone who has worked directly with Howard Nelson—who in an earlier life was a Fannie Mae exec—has a strong opinion on him. His detractors are rapid; his supporters devout.