07 Aug 2009

SPCA Outrage in Phildelphia 4: Understanding the PSPCA

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These dog cages are empty, but the PSPCA’s are full

What is the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals?

Like you, yesterday I assumed that the PSPCA was a private humanitarian organization. I kept wondering why its representatives kept talking like they were law enforcement officers. How does a private humanitarian society, funded by donations from foundations and animal lovers, get to invade homes, seize pets, and ignore requests for explanations and information from the public?

Well, it’s like this… the PSPCA is not only funded by dollars provided by private cat-and-dog lovers. It is also a business. The PSPCA is really in essence an animal prison and execution facility, which manages to help write laws in its own favor, while successfully posing as a charity.

PSPCA contracts its services, consisting of locking pets in cages (or chaining them to cages when the cages are full, as is not infrequently the case) in loud, smelly rooms, then euthanizing many of them, to the city of Philadelphia.


Pennsylvania requires shelters to hold stray dogs for 48 hours before euthanasia, to allow time for owners to find them. ACCT (the Animal Care and Control Team division of PSPCA – jdz) recently extended the “hold” time from 48 to 72 hours. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. But it has bad consequences. It means animals cannot be adopted out or released to rescue groups for an extra day, which ties up cage space. Insiders told of dogs tethered to the outside of cages, and cats stacked up in carriers.

If all cage space is filled with stray “holds” and an owner surrenders an animal, that animal will be put to death immediately because there is no mandatory “hold” on surrendered pets. (The Murder Hollow Bassets were surrendered just that way. Are they really still alive? Who knows? -jdz) Health got complaints that that was happening to these adoptable pets – just as in 2004, when I first wrote about tragic PACCA practices. Who turned the clock back to a dark past?

PSPCA competed successfully earlier this year against a rival similar organization for the city animal control contract, but then experienced a lot of internal turmoil.

ACCT, a division of PSPCA, took over the city animal-control contract Jan. 1. Chaos ensued a mere six weeks later, when PSPCA CEO Howard Nelson, who had sought the contract, quit in a huff. Board member Beth Ann White, a former banking executive with no kennel experience, was thrust into the breach, with almost predictable results.

I’m glad that the Health Department, which oversees the contract, responded quickly to complaints. I’m less glad that Melhem says that he is again satisfied by reassurances. What did Ronald Reagan say – trust, but verify?

With almost 3 million taxpayer dollars funding the contract, the public has a right to expect better – not worse – performance from PSPCA than it got from the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association, from which it wrested the contract.

Stu Bykovsky:

Cosby is the third PSPCA CEO in four months, following Howard Nelson, who fled under fire in February, and interim CEO Beth Anne White, who spent three months in the free-fire zone battling accusations of fudged “save” rates and botched medical protocols that resulted in vast numbers of sick dogs and cats.


Is PSPCA an honorable steward of animals? Can its allegations about unsanitary kennels be relied upon?

Or does PSPCA have a proven record of lying and a shamefully deficient animal care record of its own?

The same way the PSPCA would not answer questions about the fate or whereabouts of the Murder Hollow Bassets yesterday, the PSPCA has used a closed database to conceal the numbers and percentages of animals euthanized.

Philadelphia Weekly reported in May:

The PSCPA runs two shelters within a couple of miles of one another. The larger shelter, called ACCT (Animal Care and Control Team) on Hunting Park Ave. in North Philadelphia, is where roughly 31,000 homeless animals funnel into after being saved from the streets or given up by their owners. The animals are processed at Hunting Park, then either pulled by rescue partners, euthanized or sent to the second shelter, on Erie Ave., where PSCPA’s statistics had categorized such animals as “adopted.”

The ACCT database is “open” to the Health Department, which oversees the contract, while Erie’s database remains closed. As PW recently reported [The (Scary) Truth about Cats and Dogs, April 21], critics were concerned that not all of the animals shipped from Hunting Park to Erie were actually being adopted. In fact, they worried that some animals were being euthanized at Erie and not being properly accounted for in the PSCPA’s official save rates.

They were right.

PSPCA board members say they are now working to calculate “more accurate” numbers and will adjust January and February’s statistics accordingly. Between January and February, 786 animals were shipped to Erie and counted as “adopted” and save rates—72.4 percent for January and 80.9 percent for February—were admirable, especially for an organization just transitioning into the municipal animal-control role. PSPCA was also besieged by problems such as CEO Howard Nelson’s abrupt resignation six weeks into the six-month animal-control contract—a contract the organization had feverishly pursued.

March’s statistics, published after PW’s story ran, were presented online with a new section called “Outcomes of PSPCA Transfers,” which itemizes what the PSCPA board says is the true outcome of those animals, though they do not admit that prior stats had been favorably skewed intentionally.

“The numbers were not broken out in that way [in January and February] because that’s not what the city had first requested,” said Beth Ann White in a recent interview at Hunting Park Ave. “Then we all decided to go to the new format to make it more transparent.”

The newly presented numbers assert that, counting euthanasia at Erie, March’s save rate is 62.3 percent and April’s—just published—is 59.6%.

White says there is a team currently working to “redress” January and February’s save rate statistics, and that the new numbers will be published online “soon.”

If January and February’s “Outcomes of PSPCA Transfers” follows March’s pattern, about 118—roughly 15 percent—of the 786 animals previously identified as “adopted” would have been euthanized at the Erie facility.

Yet with Erie’s database still closed, it’s unclear where these new numbers are coming from.

But not only cats and dogs being deliberately euthanized are dying at PSPCA shelters:

It’s been a bad year for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — but not as bad as for Philadelphia’s homeless animals.

After fighting tooth and nail for Philadelphia’s animal control contract, the PSPCA won a six-month contract that began January 1. Then, as controversy haunted the organization all over Pennsylvania, CEO Howard Nelson suddenly resigned and vanished into the ether, leaving the job in the hands of the part-time volunteer board. Then animals reportedly got so sick rescue partners began to refuse to accept more cats or dogs from the shelter.

PW reported on rescue organizations’ allegations of sick and dying animals, ongoing vaccination delays — and questioned the real outcome for cats and dogs shipped from the shelter on Hunting Park Avenue in North Philadelphia to one a couple miles away on Erie Avenue: Were all of those animals actually adopted? Or were some euthanized, then not calculated into the final save rate?

Barry Watson
, a Philadelphia animal rescuer with experience dealing with PSPCA, also commented on the death rate last May.

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.

Tara Murtha reports:

(I)nsiders say, shelter conditions have gotten so bad that animals need to be saved from the very place they go for protection.

Since the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) reassumed Philadelphia’s animal control contract in January, reports of intake backlog, overcrowding, fuzzy numbers and infectious disease outbreaks have oozed out of the shelter in a steady stream.

Insiders allege that shelter conditions and protocol are crumbling. Rescue workers (who regularly pull animals out of the shelter and place them in homes) and volunteers say they’ve never seen so many sick animals come out of the Hunting Park shelter. One foster parent with more than 20 years experience says that in the last few months, all 18 of the kittens she rescued from ACCT have died.

“They might seem fine the day you pull them, but within two weeks, they’re gone,” she says. “My backyard is like a graveyard.”

So, tell me, Mr. Bengal, how clean are your kennels?

7 Feedbacks on "SPCA Outrage in Phildelphia 4: Understanding the PSPCA"


Can’t thank you enough for hounding (no pun intended) this case. All dog-lovers are just sick over this – we don’t want this ugly behavior to spread. Keep on with the good fight!

Michelle Helms

Just one more article about all the terrible things happening to Philadelphia’s animals. We need adopters, foster families, and volunteers- which one are you?

Carrie M

The more I read about this, the more outraged I get. The gall … just burns me up. Thank you for your persistence and follow-up.

peggy knight

Colorado Springs has a model rescue center that should be used for all cities with pet issues. Look into that and you will see what I mean….
There should be a grand jury investigation started over all this. Where is all the money going…..?

Barb E

Where are the Bassetts. Please help Wendy find them.



This is a real eye opener for those of us who thought the shelter was a safe haven. Those poor Bassets, going from a closed, stable group to being exposed to God knows what stress and disease on top of the stress of being separated from their pack buddies and Wendy.
I can’t stop thinking how terrible it must be for the hounds and their people.
What kind of system have we allowed to continue that seizes animals for a numbers violation and puts them in this kind of jeopardy? It’s truly a train wreck…
Really Ms. Cosby-what’s your definition of stewardship?

all aboard the crazy train at the chester county SPCA? | chestercountyramblings

[…] kill this shelter and I have to wonder if letting people in who some considered problematic at the PASPCA was a huge […]


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