Worried Sick

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Regarding Tara Murtha’s recent cover story about the mistreatment of animals in shelter care:

There are inaccuracies reported that need to be addressed regarding the Pennsylvania SPCA. We are an organization dedicated to rescuing animals from abuse and neglect, providing lifesaving treatment, guaranteeing homes for every adoptable animal and reducing overpopulation through low-cost spay and neuter clinics and public awareness initiatives. Yet, our mission often becomes overshadowed by political and personal vendettas while performance goes unacknowledged. In 2008, the Pennsylvania SPCA facilitated over 8,400 adoptions, investigated over 6,000 reports of abuse statewide and provided medical care for over 34,000 animals in our public clinic.

Foremost, the reports of inhumane euthanasia are unfounded. The Pennsylvania SPCA evaluates each owner-request and does not euthanize healthy, adoptable animals. In no way does the PSPCA transfer animals to the Erie Avenue shelter for the sole purpose of euthanization and the manipulation of our save rate. Animals are transferred from Hunting Park to Erie Avenue to be treated medically or to be put up for adoption.

The Pennsylvania SPCA follows strict protocol regarding vaccination. Within 24 hours, cats receive Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukepenia if older than four weeks and rabies if older than 12 weeks. Dogs are vaccinated with Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus and Bordetella if older than four weeks and rabies if older than 12 weeks. We take pride in being able to offer top veterinary care as many animals that enter the shelter are sick and have never received proper treatment.

Lastly, the ultimate goal to make Philadelphia a no-kill city is a top priority. An Advisory Council is the best way to achieve our goal and encourage public support. With only 30 days to prepare to take over animal control, however, the Advisory Council could not take precedence over establishing protocol, operational efforts and the hiring of staff. We are pleased to announce that the members of the Advisory Council have been selected.

Ms. Murtha’s discrepancies can be greatly attributed to lack of accurate research and use of biased sources. It is clear that many of those interviewed have an established tie with PACCA and a history of inaccurate claims. I greatly regret not speaking with the author directly but do not feel that the information I would have provided would have made a difference.

Acting CEO, Pennsylvania SPCA



Tara Murtha responds:

Multiple and diverse sources corroborated that almost all the cats and dogs pulled from the PSCPA’s ACCT shelter on Hunting Park Avenue are getting sick and that many, especially kittens, are dying at an unprecedented rate since January. PW obtained records showing significant delay in vaccinations upon intake from January through March.

Izzy Melham in the Health Department, overseer of PSCPA’s animal control contract, confirmed complaints of vaccination delays.

Further, the article does not allege that animals are transferred from Hunting Park to Erie “for the sole purpose of euthanization.” What’s stated is that keeping PSCPA’s Erie database closed creates a huge blind spot that renders PSCPA’s promises toward “transparency” nominal at best and deceitful at worst.

Finally, I continue to extend an open invitation to you, the board and anyone else working with animals in Philadelphia—especially PSPCA employees on the ground floor working in the best interests of the animals—to interview on the record in an effort to expand that transparency as well as public awareness of these problems. I stand by my reporting and story.



The operations at the animal control shelter at Hunting Park (HP) are portrayed as if they are a high-security military installation where confidentiality agreements are supposed to be signed by staff and volunteers, and were everyone is so afraid to speak out. In addition, health and other conditions are portrayed as so bad that this made the animal control shelter hardly recognizable to us.

While in no way do we want to minimize some of the concerns voiced in this article, many of the concerns raised have been corrected, or are in the process of being corrected. Sadly, the article never even focused on any of the improvements that actually have occurred since the contract was taken over. The facility is much cleaner, there are more kennel staff and a significant increase in lifesaving staff. In addition, there is a full time veterinarian and the medical communication system regarding at least sick dogs, has very significantly improved as compared to the past.

In these times we think that this article is actually harmful to the animals of Philadelphia. We are trying very hard to recruit more volunteers needed to help with giving quality care to the animals at the shelter. We also desperately need more foster providers for animals.

Who is going to volunteer for an organization as portrayed by your piece? We can only hope that the citizens of Philadelphia have had enough of ego driven animal politics in this city including divisive and harmful slandering and bickering between individuals and organizations/constituents and come together to work together for the sake of the animals that cannot speak for themselves.

Hunting Park PSPCA



This article really alarmed me. I’m a concerned citizen and animal lover. I had heard rumblings of problems from friends in the local rescue community, especially about the huge incidence of sick animals coming out of ACCT. And I have wondered about the rosy claims Howard Nelson was making in press articles since PSPCA took over the contract.

There are some pretty specific allegations in Ms. Murtha’s article, seemingly backed up by data. And although she has clearly formed an opinion that things are not well at PSPCA, I could not see that her views were unsupported. I think Mayor Nutter needs to begin an investigation into how this contract is being managed. If we find that PSPCA’s operations are conforming to the requirements of the contract, I know I’ll breathe easier. But for the sake of Philly’s homeless animals we can’t just do nothing.

via philadelphiaweekly.com

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 30, 2009 at 02:06AM

“MIss Murtha failed to mentioned the animal control facility on Hunting Park's long history of sick dogs and cats. As if this suddenly happened on January 1, 2009. Where was MIss Murtha during the PACCA years, when rescues were terrified to pull animals for fear that they would infect their own kennels and drain them of their financial resources. Where was Miss Murtha when the animals of PACCA were refused treatment/entrance at the largest animal hospital in the City? Under Michael Moyer's shelter medicine program? Since January, things have improved at ACCT. Miss Murtha is not a reporter. Her article was not a fair, balanced investigation into Philadelphia's animal control shelter. It was a piece of advertising - for those who lost the contract and cannot admit that they may have been responsible for the deplorable conditions at PACCA. I cried every summer at the thought of PACCA's Dollar Days when kittens were handed out for a dollar to every animal abuser in Philadelphia looking for cheap Pit Bull bait. I was thrilled to see PACCA's Board make their "live exit" from that facilty in December of 2008. I remember reading in the Inquirer about Board President Dana Spain Smith's birthday last year. Her parents presented her with a brand new $130,000 sports car and had her "old" car towed away from the restaurant where she was celebrating. I thought then, that instead of trading in last year's model, why didn't she use the money to buy antibiotics for the dogs and cats dying in her shelter? $130,000 could have been used to hire a vet, or could have been put toward a better ventilation system, or just a fresh coat of paint - to hide the dirt and the indifference.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 30, 2009 at 02:26AM

“Miss Murtha interviewed Anne Irwin of the Federated Humane Societies? Anne Irwin supports gassing as a form of euthanasia in two of PA's western shelters. Anne Irwin was/is extremely critical of the PSPCA's 24 Hour Cruelty Hotline. Anne Irwin's closest friends are the lobbyists for the worst puppy mills in PA. Anne Irwin's shelter in Bucks County sits near empty most days as animals in our overcrowded City's shelters are being euthanized for lack of room. Why doesn't Anne Irwin pull dogs and save lives instead of reaching out to journalists to criticize those in the animal welfare community trying to make a difference? Why doesn't Miss Murtha spend a week at Irwin's shelter in Lahaska?”

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3. Anonymous said... on May 1, 2009 at 08:59AM

“#1 - This is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent comments to date. It's obvious that this individual cares about animals and does not have a personal agenda to pursue.

PACCA was a disaster and its offspring, PAWS, is not much better. I strongly believe that the PSPCA is the organization to best provide the services to protect and care for our City's abused, neglected and abandoned animals.”

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4. tara murtha said... on Aug 26, 2009 at 09:40AM

“Note: The PSPCA and specifically Beth Ann White later admitted to vaccination delays, the probable cause of the spike in sick and dying animals. They/She also admitted on the record that the PSPCA had indeed had dogs and cats shipped from ACCT to the Erie shelter and then euthanized, and did not calculate these deaths into published save rates--the blind spot discussed in the story. Despite confirming allegations refuted above, neither Ms. White nor any other representative of PSPCA wrote a follow-up letter to clarify that the contents of this letter is false.


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5. mike vick said... on Sep 16, 2009 at 12:58PM

“Tara - can we be facebook friends so you can write about my redemption tour???”


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