CORRECTED POST - PSPCA contract expires Dec. 31, 2011.
January 2009 was to be the start of a new era for stray animals in Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania SPCA was taking over the grim warehouse that housed the city's stray and seized animals. Volunteers scrubbed blood and dirt off the walls. They painting and fixed the ventilation and brought in new staff in an effort improve living conditions for thousands of animals after years of serious problems under the operation of Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA).
In a not-unexpected development, that arrangement ends on Dec. 30.
Come the start of the new year an as-yet-unnamed entity, supervised by the city, will run animal control. That means providing care for some 30,000 cats and dogs a year.
The move comes as the PSPCA - which under prior director Howard Nelson had made a dramatic impact statewide as it shut down puppy mills, fake rescues and hoarders run by the worst animal abusers - shrinks to a shadow of its former self. They have closed shelters across the state and all-but-eliminated animal investigations beyond the city boundaries.
How did the PSPCA do running animal control? Some say better than PACCA. Some say not. Regardless, it's unclear exactly who will be in charge now.
The decision also comes as the Delaware County SPCA abandons its role providing animal control for the 49 municipalities in that populous county. So far, there is no solution to that crisis.
It's easy for private shelters to opt out of animal control. They can say they don't get enough money from the municipalities (which is likely true) and they can say they want to be "no-kill" (which is laudable but unrealistic) and receive money from Maddie's Fund - a philanthropic group that rewards shelters for ending euthanasia. (The troublesome downside to the fund is that it pressures shelters to limit their numbers and pick and choose the cats and dogs they bring in thereby guaranteeing they will be "no kill.")
But the bottom line is the thousands of animals abandoned by their owners and roaming the streets need to go somewhere or, as one activist put it, "no kill" becomes "road kill."
Perhaps one of the brightest news developments coming out of the animal control discussions in Philadelphia is a new ordinance banning the sale of unspayed or unneutered dogs in the city. It will no doubt be tough to enforce but it's a solid step toward controlling pet overpopulation.