Hard-earned gains and the way forward
What makes the current situation frustrating for some defenders is how much progress has been made in recent years.
When the ACCT was created in 2012, the non-profit association welcomed more than 32,000 animals in one year. Only 62% left the shelter. At the end of last year, about 14,000 animals entered the shelter, with an 89% survival rate, just below the 90% benchmark that meets national “no-kill” standards. Even then, “it’s not just numbers,” Barnett said. “Every number is an animal.”
The ACCT survival rate for 2022, end of May, was 87%. But with rising admissions and limited space, shelter workers fear they will roll back on the city’s hard-won gains.
Chronic underfunding and high turnover among ACCT leaders are familiar pain points. The nonprofit has seen seven executive directors over a 10-year period, with Barnett joining Tara Schernecke as interim co-executive director in November 2021.
The way forward, shelter workers say, will build on the collaborative work that led to this point.
In 2018, ACCT joined a group of area shelters to create the Philadelphia No-Kill Coalition, with the goal of turning Philly into a kill-free city. Now comprised of 23 member organizations, No-Kill Philly works to increase the survival rate of animals in city shelters, in part by intervening before an animal lands in a shelter.
The patchwork of organizations aims to connect residents with free or low-cost pet care to help keep families whole.
Barnett points to a change in the way rescue organizations approach owner surrenders, an approach that seeks to stifle the tendency to make assumptions about someone having to surrender their pet.
“[There] It used to be just this kind of judgment of… ‘If you give up on an animal, you’re a horrible person and you should never have a pet again’ or ‘We’re not going to help you if you can’t. not pay for veterinary care.
Supporters insist on the need to remain compassionate. And on a practical level, not everyone knows these services exist, Barnett said.
Advocates hope residents considering returning their pets will use these types of community resources before turning to the shelter. ACCT runs a helpline for pet owners in need, No-Kill Philly hosts free pet pantries, and City of Elderly Love runs a pet retention fund, to n to name a few.
Local efforts like the Philly Pets Vax Project fill a similar need, hosting free clinics to help prevent costly medical issues that often lead to pet abandonment.
To bring animal control to a more manageable level, says the PSPCA’s Bernstein, Philly must also see a change in the way its residents and their pets are cared for.
Eviction and housing instability are among the many reasons people give for abandoning their pets, shelter workers say. Bernstein cites creating more accessible and pet-friendly housing as a longer-term, albeit complex, solution that would reduce the number of animals turned over to shelters.
Apart from landlord surrenders, shelter workers and advocates hope to see an expansion of what is known as TNR, or trap, neutral, return. The process involves humanely trapping the cats, neutering or neutering them, and bringing the felines back to where they came from.