MIGHT THE appointment of Sue Cosby to run the Pennsylvania SPCA end the two-year civil war between PSPCA supporters and those of the defunct Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA)?
It's a nice dream, and sometimes dreams come true.
And sometimes . . .
Even before she took command on June 3, I had received a few complaints, filled with dark innuendo.
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.
I interviewed Cosby, 40, a few days before she took the reins at PSPCA. Two days later, six dogs died of an infection known as "strep zoo" and both the PSPCA shelter, at 350 E. Erie Ave., and the PSPCA-operated Animal Care and Control Team (ACCT) shelter, at 111 W. Hunting Park Ave., were quarantined for a time.
Welcome to the pickle barrel, Sue.
Actually, welcome back, because Cosby was PACCA's chief operating officer, second in command, from June 2005 to August 2007. Being in both "camps" puts her in a unique position to (perhaps) bring peace to the warring factions. But, first, the background:
After surrendering the animal-control contract in 2002, PSPCA last year wrested it back from PACCA, which was created by the city Health Department to operate the shelter. On Jan. 1, PSPCA assumed the animal-care contract, under the banner of Animal Care and Control Team. Six weeks later, Nelson quit, throwing the shelter and its operations into chaos.
Having won the city contract for $2.9 million (underbidding PACCA's $3.1 million), PSPCA now says it's losing money and wants more from the city.
That is a nice dream, too, but a city drowning in red ink is not going to make it come true.
Will PSPCA keep the contract?
"I have to try to find a way to keep it and still be fair to the PSPCA and animals," Cosby says. She'll do that by putting a magnifying glass on expenses "and seeing what we have to have, bottom line."
If PSPCA can't squeeze more from the rock that is the city budget, it has a dilemma: Keep the contract and lose money, or bow out and take a PR black eye.
I have another concern: That PSPCA will cut costs so much that ACCT won't be able to humanely handle the 31,000 animals that pass through the shelter each year.
Cosby was born in Cambridge, Mass., grew up in New England and earned a B.A. in advertising from New York City's School of Visual Arts.
More recently, and importantly, she headed the Animal Welfare Association, a nonprofit in Voorhees, Camden County, that handles 9,500 animals a year - and which was a PACCA rescue partner.
She lives in Jersey, has a boyfriend and, of course, adopted fur babies - two cats and four dogs, two of whom came from PACCA.
None of which will matter if she - as the $130K leader - can't turn PSPCA into a smoothly running organization that does right by employees, right by citizens and, most importantly, right by the animals.
"Sadly, there was no reason for things to fall apart so quickly under the PSPCA, and it is tragic that it has to be cleaned up again," says nationally known animal-welfare crusader Nathan Winograd. "But she will do it, and that is the silver lining. . . . Philadelphia is on a roller-coaster ride, and that is not fair to the community and it is not fair to the animals who depend on the shelters for their very lives."
In what I'm sure she hopes is the final word on the PACCA-PSPCA feud, Cosby concedes that PSPCA wasn't "fully cooperative" in the past, but adds that PACCA might have done more, too: "There were personalities and egos involved on both sides of the equation."
She pledges "a philosophy of openness and transparency."
Last year, PSPCA went opaque when the press reported that agents had acted outside their jurisdiction. Cosby wasn't there then, but says, "I can't see that would ever happen under my administration. Nothing illegal would be acceptable."
Can we include prohibiting improperly trained staffers from administering euthanasia, another charge aired last year?
The head vet will ensure that standards are upheld, she says.
A continuing issue at ACCT is that animals are not quickly vaccinated upon intake. Delay results in sick animals and the spread of disease.
"When I was at PACCA, we were able to vaccinate the animal on intake," Cosby says, and pledges to fix this fast.
Restoring a cooperative venture with Penn's renowned vet school is high priority - and likely. Barry Stupine, the former PACCA treasurer and soon-to-retire chief of staff at Penn's vet school, has joined PSPCA as a paid "senior adviser."
It's depressing to look at the problems, but there is hope.
When I began reporting on Philadelphia animal issues five years ago, I learned of the "no-kill" movement, which (basically) wants every healthy, adoptable animal placed in an adoptive home. The timeline then for achieving this locally and nationally was about 10 years.
Today, about 60 percent of Philly's shelter animals are saved, up from 10 to 20 percent five years ago.
A huge supporter of "no-kill," Cosby says that it depends on two elements: an active spay/neuter campaign to prevent births, and adoption from shelters. She thinks Philly can be "no-kill" by 2015.
That's another dream, but maybe not an impossible one.
Postscript: Despite the problems, volunteers and rescue groups shouldn't abandon ACCT or PSPCA, because that abandons innocent animals.
From experience, I know that when more rescues and volunteers are around, fewer bad things happen.
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