The city’s animal shelter, ACCT Philly, is a disgrace to Philadelphia and has been for decades.
ACCT Philly’s future ability to provide healthy, humane care for animals is grim unless changes are made. That’s according to a confidential report commissioned by the shelter during a recent deadly outbreak of Canine pneumovirus. The shelter stopped dog adoptions for two weeks as it fought the disease.
The 11-page report, which I have obtained, was prepared primarily by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, with input from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Florida.
ACCT executive director Susan Russell, who declined to comment on the contents of the report, tells me she ordered it “to get analysis of what we could do better, to prevent future outbreaks.” The recent outbreak, during which eight dogs died and dozens more were sickened, was the shelter’s third in 15 years.
ACCT has a two-pronged problem, the report says:
Disease can sweep through the shelter because ACCT can’t isolate sick animals. During the outbreak, tents were used to segregate healthy dogs.
“Without a separate humane space for dogs with upper respiratory symptoms to be housed,” ACCT will continue to have outbreaks, the report predicts.
The physical side is lacking, but the personnel side has problems, too.
In January, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart severely criticized the Managing Director’s Office, which oversees ACCT, as being oblivious to mismanagement by the shelter’s former leadership.
Money is another problem. The Cornell report says “comparable municipal animal shelters” spend between $350 and $475 per animal. Philadelphia spends $237 per animal. (ACCT shelters about 18,000 animals a year, mostly dogs and cats.)
In 2017 testimony before City Council, Philadelphia animal activist Marsha Perelman, speaking as a board member of the Humane Society of the United States, said the city “is dead last among major cities” in spending on its shelter.
At that same hearing, Councilman Bobby Henon, who occupied Council’s seat on the ACCT board, described what he called “Philadelphia’s failure to adequately fund and support” the shelter.
But what was done? Nothing.
Henon has been replaced on the board by Councilman Allan Domb, known as a dog lover. The shelter is “a disgrace,” he tells me, “just unacceptable for a city like Philadelphia.”
The board is being expanded. Perelman has joined it, along with former Mayor and Gov. Ed Rendell, another dog lover.
The report lightly criticizes ACCT leadership for often stepping in to walk dogs or clean cages, which is below their level of responsibility. ACCT volunteer Brenda Johnson, one of the signers of an open letter to the mayor and managing director seeking more funding for ACCT, tells me she has seen Russell on her hands and knees scouring kennels.
That reminds me that in 1992, a just-elected Mayor Rendell got down on his hands and knees to clean a City Hall bathroom, sending a message that the top person cares about everything, down to the toilets.
Let’s get back to the space issue. ACCT has 19,000 square feet. Under the same roof, an additional 13,000 square feet are occupied by Vector Control, the city’s rat-catching agency.
The quickest and cheapest solution to ACCT’s space problem is to relocate Vector Control, perhaps to a vacant public school building. I’ve been hearing that for years, but nothing happens.
I first wrote about the animal shelter in 2004, when it was called PACCA. It was then a house of horrors for animals.
Over the years, piecemeal improvements were made, but ACCT remains underfunded, understaffed, and a civic embarrassment. It is a loud, dirty, terrifying environment for animals.
Getting it to where it should be requires money, yes, but also public outcry and political will.