Philadelphia’s main animal shelter in 2004 euthanized nearly 90 percent of the cats and dogs that came through its doors.
Today, the non-profit organization that provides these the city’s housing and animal control services save almost 90% of life.
Yet year after year ACCT Philly grapples with harsh criticism of its management, revolving door leadership and chronic underfunding.
The shelter is required to take all animals, including all manner of creatures, that come to its facility at 111 W. Hunting Park Ave. in North Philadelphia. It is often full of large dogs, mainly pit bulls. Staff are constantly scrambling to find rescue partners to pick up the animals. And euthanasia remains a sad reality, as evidenced by web pages for dogs and cats must be put to death unless someone intervenes.
Animal control and housing in Philadelphia has a checkered history that predates ACCT Philly, which resumed operations in 2012 as a non-profit organization created by the city.
The ACCT Philly replaced the Pennsylvania SPCA, which had replaced the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association overseen by the city’s public health department. PACCA was created in 2002 to replace the PSPCA, which had also had the contract for the previous years and was beset by its own controversies.
In the tumultuous decade leading up to the ACCT Philly takeover, the trend towards âno-killâ shelters – in an effort to avoid euthanasia as much as possible – began to take hold throughout. the country. At the end of ACCT Philly’s first year of operation, the âlive releaseâ rate – the percentage of animals adopted or sent to rescue partners – was 62%.
This number has fluctuated but has gradually improved. In 2004, the Daily News ran investigative articles calling PACCA a “house of horrors” with at least six in 10 animals being euthanized.
It was worse than that, according to an internal analysis carried out several years later. The number of reported adoptions had apparently been “grossly inflated” and the “best estimate” of PACCA’s savings rate in 2004 was 11%.
At the end of 2019, ACCT Philly hired Aurora Velazquez as executive Director. She arrived shortly after an outbreak that forced dogs to be placed in tents. Despite the ensuing human pandemic, however, the news seemed to have a positive trend in 2020.
The total number of animals received by ACCT Philly over the years had fallen by almost half; in 2020, it welcomed 11,263 animals of all types.
In early 2021, ACCT Philly reported a live streaming rate of 92%, exceeding the industry standard to be considered ‘no kill’ for the first time.
The celebration was short lived.
In July, a state inspector said the sanitary conditions at the facility were unsatisfactory and “a discharge for cruelty has been made.”
The PSPCA, which received this referral, determined that ACCT did not violate the Pennsylvania Cruelty Code, but improvements were needed.
In August, ACCT Philly treatment of a dog named Saint sparked an uproar among local animal welfare advocates. Saint suffered a broken jaw and was euthanized, even though a co-owner wanted to bring the injured dog home. This matter is being investigated by the PSPCA and a lawsuit has been filed against ACCT Philly by the dog owner.
In a statement, ACCT Philly said that pending investigation results what happened to Saint was a “tragedy” and the shelter changed its policy to allow an owner to recover an injured animal.
The management team have been the subject of a petition on Change.org alleging widespread animal abuse and demanding the resignation of Velazquez and his senior assistants. On various online platforms, she and her team have been labeled as murderers or worse.
At the end of September, Velazquez tendered his resignation. In a statement at the time, Velazquez said: âOver the past two years, we have made great strides, while continuing to face challenges. However, it has also become clear to me that my goals and values ââdo not seem to match those of the community. “
Velazquez declined a recent interview request from The Inquirer, but in a videoconference with other animal welfare professionals she described what she faced in Philadelphia as “some of the most horrific things I have experienced in my career”. She said she and her senior deputy were facing “death threats” and “threats of physical violence”.
Marsha Perelman, ACCT Philly board co-chair, said Velazquez chose to step down. Perelman declined to discuss the reasons given by Velazquez.
Overall, Perelman said debates over animal welfare and shelter management have long been controversial.
However, she said it was ACCT Philly’s responsibility to convince critics – or at least to try.
âFrankly, it’s our job to take care of the animals so the controversy will subside over time,â she said.
In the meantime, the board is supported by two existing staff members serving as interim co-executive directors, Sarah Barnett and Tara Schenecke. Perelman said there was “no research underway at this point” for a permanent leader, allowing the board to rethink the organizational structure of ACCT Philly.
On a recent tour with a reporter from the shelter, Barnett highlighted recent improvements, including a long-delayed ‘drop-in center’ for adoptions, rooms converted from offices to animal spaces, and a quiet cat kennel that no longer exists. you are more right next to the barking dogs.
The shelter seemed relatively clean. Barnett admitted the facility was going through a rough patch when it was criticized by the inspector in July.
Frequently, Barnett noted that a special area, such as an isolation room for animals with certain diseases, was paid for through a “generous donor.”
When the pandemic hit, the city cut funding for ACCT Philly from $ 4.6 million – not including a $ 488,000 mid-year infusion – to $ 3.8 million for the fiscal year 2021. There remains at this level for the current fiscal year.
To help fill the gaps, the board has raised about $ 1 million, Perelman said.
Complaints about underfunding date back at least to the 1990s.
âThere was already a disparity with ACCT Philly fundingâ¦ and funding from other shelters in the big cities, but cut the budget by almost a million dollars and expect them to provide the same services are not viable for any organization, âsaid Kirsten Tullo. , Pennsylvania State Director for the Humane Society of the United States.
In 2015, the Petco Foundation (now called Petco Love) awarded ACCT Philly a $ 1 million drop-in center grant. The careless management of these funds led to a critical report from the Comptroller of the City of Philadelphia. The foundation nevertheless supported ACCT Philly, noting how poorly it compares in terms of funding with similar large cities.
For the next fiscal year 2023, ACCT Philly is asking the city for $ 5.9 million. Perelman said the association needs $ 6.9 million to complete the work required under its contract, but the remaining $ 1 million could be donations, grants and fees.
If the request for more money is rejected, ACCT Philly will need to continue to rely on its wide range of partners.
Among its challenges, medical needs stand out.
In November, ACCT Philly hired a veterinarian, a position that had not been filled since early 2020. In the meantime, contract vets were providing care.
âShe was actually applauded as she entered the building,â Barnett said.
Barnett was recently accompanied into his office by Cookie, a pit bull with wrinkled shar-pei notes who suffered from several eye problems requiring expensive surgery upon arriving at ACCT Philly.
The processing of cookies has been paid for by the Yoda Fund, which was created by Perelman to pay for urgent medical care, Barnett said.
After her day’s work is over, Barnett said, she brings Cookie home as a foster family. However, Barnett proposed: “She is for adoption.”