TEN YEARS AGO I reported on Sheea, a dog that was dropped off at the city animal shelter and euthanized nine minutes later.

This week I report on Rhonda, a dog that was dropped off at the city animal shelter Oct. 1 and euthanized 15 minutes later.

In each case, the sad outcome was the same: A beloved pet that had gotten loose was killed by those who should have been its protector.

Sheea slipped out of a house in Wissinoming without her collar and ID. Rhonda left Cailin Mulvihill's home in Fishtown when a friend opened the door. In each case, a well-intentioned stranger found the dog and turned it in to the shelter in hopes it would be returned to the owner.

Almost everything else is different.

In 2004, the city animal shelter was known as PACCA - the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association. Today it is ACCT Philly - Animal Care and Control Team.

A decade ago, when Sheea's owners found out their dog was killed at the shelter, they showed up and were lied to, stonewalled and verbally abused. The shelter's own policies were ignored when their 2-year-old Shetland sheepdog was put down. There was no accountability.

When Mulvihill learned that Rhonda, her adopted 15-year-old Chihuahua mix, was put down, the result was different.

Before I get to that, here's how dog intake is supposed to happen at ACCT, according to executive director Sue Cosby.

The animal is surrendered at the front desk, where the paperwork is completed. Assuming the animal is healthy, an attendant takes it to the dog-intake area, some distance from the front desk. There, the animal is examined, vaccinated and, if necessary, dewormed. It is also scanned for a microchip.

It then moves to the kennel. The shelter takes in 25 dogs a day on average.

The staff is told each step is important, Cosby told me during an interview at ACCT Philly on Hunting Park Avenue.

Rhonda's case was different because, according to staff on hand, the Chihuahua mix was in very bad shape. In such cases, a supervisor is called to evaluate the animal.

Rhonda was brought in by a friend of Erin Kelly, a freshman at Temple, who found Rhonda at Firth and Cedar in Fishtown - just a block from Mulvihill's home - about 8 a.m. Oct. 1. Kelly said the dog "was very shaky, but walking." Mulvihill, a 23-year-old retail manager, acknowledges that Rhonda was epileptic and had sporadic seizures.

At ACCT, Rhonda was unable to keep her head up and couldn't stand, I was told by Jenn Berwick, assistant director of operations, who said staffers who handled the dog found her to be "flat out," meaning barely conscious.

I viewed a security tape of Rhonda's arrival at the shelter, and she was limp. As an attendant cradled her in her arms and carried her down the hall, Rhonda's head hung loosely over his right arm.

The call to euthanize Rhonda was made by a supervisor, which might have been the right call except there was a violation of policy.

No one checked Rhonda for a microchip, which would have provided Mulvihill's contact information, and no one checked the lost-dog website, on which Mulvihill had listed the loss just three hours earlier. Had this been done, Rhonda's life would be been saved.

Mulvihill learned from Kelly that her dog was at ACCT, and when she learned her dog had been killed, she complained. The manager came forward and admitted his failure to Cosby, who declined to name him.

"I believe the expediency was based on concern for the condition of the dog. It was not callous," says Cosby, "but policy was overlooked."

In the two cases a decade apart, the outcome was the same. A beloved pet died.

The difference - and it is major - is between PACCA's response a decade ago and ACCT's today.

PACCA lied and stonewalled and no one was punished.

ACCT met with Mulvihill and with me about the sad case, and the supervisor was suspended for a week without pay. It was his first infraction. That's no slap on the wrist.

"It was a horrible, horrible mistake," says Cosby.

And Cailin Mulvihill owns the resulting heartbreak.

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

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