PW spoke with PSPCA COO Marc Peralta this afternoon to learn more about the outbreak of strep zoo at PSPCA’s ACCT shelter on West Hunting Park Avenue and the subsequent “population break.”
Peralta confirmed that the strain of strep zoo found this week matches the strain found in the shelter last June. He says that it may have been never been fully eradicated because the population break wasn’t conducted properly last year.
“We didn’t do a population break last year. We did put animals in the garage in June but there were still animals in the shelter. So what we’re trying to do this time is take the dogs out completely, push for adoption and take a few days to scrub and let everything properly dry,” Peralta says.
One controversial element of the population-break plan is that the dogs who exit the infected shelter will not return after the cleaning. Instead, they’ll be stored in crates in a garage until they’re adopted or, ultimately, euthanized.
Peralta says though the dogs have all been treated with antibiotics, they are being extra cautious by not allowing the dogs back in. At the same time, he emphasizes that people shouldn’t be afraid to adopt the dogs, because they’re as healthy as dogs generally are coming out of the shelter.
“It’s highly unlikely that any of the animals are a carrier. We want to make sure we get this right,” he says.
Peralta also emphasizes: “Euthanasia is not part of the plan.” However, when more than a third of the dogs who enter the shelter alive are euthanized under regular day-to-day conditions, it’s obvious that unless overburdened regional rescues step up and squeeze a few more dogs into their spaces and this weekend’s announced-last-second (more on that later) adoption event is deliriously successful, many of these dogs are going to be put down.
If you take the PSPCA’s estimate of 150 dogs in the infected shelter, add the average of 25 new homeless dogs that arrive every day and consider that the outbreak was confirmed March 30, that’s actually 150 dogs that were in the shelter plus another 250 that would have arrived since then. Then 25 more tomorrow and each day throughout the population break.
Getting these dogs to safety will be a huge challenge.
“In all honesty, after a certain amount of time, after 10 days or a week, we really could return them, but again, it’s just about getting this thing right,” he says. Critics say the decision is a death sentence; defenders of the plan retort that being stacked in crates in a garage is better than being euthanized outright.
Peralta confirms that a space was cleared out in the nearby shelter on Erie Avenue to accommodate about 50 more dogs, and the rest will be put into crates in the shelter’s garage. The transportation begins tomorrow morning.
“We’ll always have staff back there, the biggest thing is getting them out and walked. They’re not going to be sitting in crates and forgotten about,” he says. “We won’t let that happen.”
PSPCA employs dedicated animal-lover volunteers, but making sure these dogs are walked properly will be a challenge. Insiders have long said that on a regular day, there aren’t enough volunteers to walk the shelter dogs properly.
Peralta says that dogs stored in the garage, where there’s little ventilation, will be rotated in the extra Erie Avenue space.
Peralta says that disease-control experts at University of Pennsylvania were consulted to develop the plan. Neither the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services or Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement have any rules or protocol to govern population breaks.
Asked how long the dogs are expected to stay in the garage, Peralta says, “I’m hoping a matter of days. That’s a hard question. It could be up to a few weeks. They’ll be dwindling by the day.”
Though it’s not on their website yet, last night after business hours PSPCA sent out a last-minute media advisory announcing a “garage sale” emergency adoption event this weekend.
The announcement reads:
“Approximately 150 dogs from the Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) facility on Hunting Park Ave. will be transported to the Pennsylvania SPCA’s Erie Ave. shelter on Saturday morning and kept in temporary housing until they can be adopted into loving homes, placed in foster care or sent to rescue organizations. The dogs are being moved so a thorough cleaning of the ACCT facility can take place.
There will be substantially discounted adoption fees for dogs and chances to receive a free dog adoption and adoption hours will be extended on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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.
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.
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.