Accounting for ACCT Philly

Everything old is new again. 

In the decade since ACCT Philly started operations, I have been in the city animal shelter in Feltonville many times, but not lately.

A couple of adopters check dog kennels (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

Mainly because of COVID, I had not visited the 27,000-square-foot facility since it took over the 9,000-square-foot city vector space next door, a new roof and HVAC had been installed, new kennels were added, and an adoption center had opened. 

My drought ended last Thursday when I toured the shelter with co-executive director Sarah Barnett.

She and Tara Schernecke were installed in November 2021 as the management duo after the sudden and mysterious departure of executive director Aurora Velazquez. And now the board of directors is searching for a permanent, single leader. That search should be concluded before the end of the year, board co-chair Marsha Perelman tells me.

Was there something wrong with the performance of the twin leaders?, I asked Perelman. 

The board was pleased with their progress, she said, but felt the best organization for “ACCT Philly is the traditional structure with a single executive director.” 

Each woman was invited to apply for the job. Barnett has applied, Schernecke has not.

“Having a strong internal candidate does not negate the need for a search,” Perelman told me in an email. Barnett, 35, told me she strongly endorsed the search. 

The two women were the sixth leader since ACCT Philly began in 2012, taking over the operation of the shelter from the Pennsylvania SPCA.

Previous leaders were, chronologically, Tara Derby, Sue Cosby, Vincent Medley, Susan Russell and Velazquez. 

The ideal candidate will have both shelter and administrative strength, according to the job requirements, posted on the ACCT website. It will pay up to $125,000, not unreasonable for a person supervising a staff of 81 and a budget of $6.7 million, $5.8 million from the city, which reflects a recent, dramatic 40% increase, according to ACCT. The remainder comes from fundraising and donations.

As I have said before, having leaders that serve about as long as a member of congress, two years, is not a good business model. Every leader brings their own methods and manners and staff is kept spinning by changes. Stability is a good thing, if you have a good leader.

Where my coverage began

As noted, I have been writing about animal care and control in Philadelphia since 2004, with my expose titled “The Cruel Cages” at was then called PACCA. 

And when ACCT Philly launched, I was there and have kept tabs on it ever since.

Over the years, the shelter has had many problems, and lately some improvements, mentioned above.

In this report, I am setting aside the two years of COVID, which crippled operations. Many bad things happened in America that were unavoidable due to the pandemic, and that goes for the shelter. That will remain a black hole.

Now that it’s over, I wanted to see where ACCT stands.

A good place to start is with the numbers.

Prior to the 2020 renovation, ACCT had 58 large dog kennels, and 13 small dog kennels. It now has 69 large dog kennels, 12 small dog kennels, and 14 isolation kennels in two separate rooms, very important to prevent the spread of disease. Seven more large kennels are to be added next month, bringing the total to 76, said Barnett.

For cats, there are a total of 192 cages, down slightly from the 194 before renovation, but rearranged to create more space, and new cages added for ringworm and Panleuk, cat diseases.

Panleuk cat isolation room

ACCT reports 1,701 volunteers, up from 1,453, before COVID changed everything.

The number of rescue organizations pulling animals out of the shelter has increased to 377 from the pre-COVID total of 357, Barnett said.

Those numbers are encouraging, but the most important numbers are the “save” rate, meaning the number and percentage of animals taken in to the shelter who exit alive — to an adoptive family, to foster care, or to a frescue group.

The average save rate for the last four months is 87% for dogs, 82% for cats. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they have been better in recent years.

To put this in context, the save rate was 62% when ACCT Philly began operations in 2012. It was about 20% in 2004 when I first started writing about it.

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: Earlier this month ACCT announced it was at 140% of occupancy, taking in an average of 18 dogs a day, the second highest total for an October.

Warlock was quartered in Sarah Barnett’s office (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

The shelter begged for extra help from rescues, and took to housing dogs in staff offices to save them from euthanasia. When I visited, Warlock was housed in Barnett’s office. He was on a “time stamp,” or a death warrant to be executed within hours unless he was rescured. (Warlock was, and I will discuss “time stamps” in a future column.)

October was bad, Barnett believes, because of the housing crisis, with people being evicted, and some landlords not accepting pet dogs. Despite the crowding, the kennel was relatively quiet, as was the entirely facility, and smelled fresh.

Two bad things can happen when the shelter is overcrowded — disease can break out, and dogs must be euthanized to create space for new arrivals. That’s when they get “time stamped.”

Several volunteers mentioned to me their frustration with local rescues that are bringing up dogs from the South, for instance, while Philadelphia dogs are being euthanized.

Given her position, Barnett did not want to criticize her rescue partners, but I can raise questions.

PSPCA, for instance, pulled 3,828 dogs from ACCT in 2012, but only 82 in 2021, making it the fifth most-active rescue. (PSPCA claims it pulled 326 dogs last year. I can’t resolve the discrepancy.)

Philly PAWS took 253 dogs in 2012, but only 140 last year, which put it in second place behind Sanctuary at Haafsville.

PSPCA CEO Julie Klim said the numbers don’t reflect a tremendous amount of animal care services the organization renders. All that is true, but the Pennsylvania SPCA ought to prioritize Pennsylvania dogs.

At Philly Paws, Executive Director Melissa Levy said its cat rescues were 1,002 last year contrasted with 808 10 years earlier. As with PSPCA, PAWS Is very active in animal welfare. And yet, it is Philly PAWS, and Philly dogs ought to get priority.

It would be helpful if other large, well-funded rescues — looking at you, Brandywine Valley SPCA — put their oars in the water to help ACCT.

With a little more help, ACCT can raise its “save” count.

28 thoughts on “Accounting for ACCT Philly”

  1. Way to go, Stu.

    Our helpless furry friends need all the help they can get.

    There are more and more homeless dogs and cats since the onset of Covid
    and the rising cost of living, not to mention those abandoned by the number
    of unfortunate homeless people across the country.

    In addition to calling on well-funded rescues for help, you might also suggest
    that your readers contribute whatever they can, and perhaps even volunteer
    to help at the shelter. Even if it’s just to pet and hug the little guys.
    Little Guys Need Hugs, too!

    1. Thanks and excellent suggestion. I would consider volunteering myself, but as a watchdog I don’t think I should be that close. Might lose my objectivity.

    2. The reason the previous director Aurora Valezquez left was absolutely Not under mysterious circumstances! That is a fact and should be stated in this article. I think the public deserves to know that truth. If an article is written it should be without bias and the real facts stated. Not the facts or statistics Acct Philly chooses to share. That’s true journalism.

      1. You neglected to mention the reason for Valezquez leaving, a reason which is known only to her and the board, neither of which would tell me. If you believe you know the reason, state it.
        As a journalist, I am not free to print rumor, such as you find all over social media.

        1. Of course they didn’t give you a reason! I’m sure her resignation letter doesn’t stare the real reason either. So I guess you can call it assumption, heresey, rumors etc. The incident concerning Saints murder and cover up plays a huge role in her resignation. She is not a stranger to animal cruelty or abuse allegations. I guess we can’t all believe what we read on the internet but there are several articles (not social media) that will confirm that.

          1. In a previous column you may not have seen, I wrote Aurora left right after the Saint scandal. Anyone paying attention can see the connection, but I could not say it was causal because I can’t prove that. I can prove the timing.
            Unlike what you read on social media, I adhere to journalistic principles. I must be able to verify everything I use. And, btw, Medley was accused of mistreating animals (on the internet) and Russell was fired in Chicago. I reported each of these, and the Medley accusation was NOT verified by a reliable San Antonio news source.

    You’re like a pit bull gnawing on a steak. Keep up the very necessary good work !
    While you’re at it, keep up with the exercise.

  3. Is anyone going to tell the truth about what’s really going on at Acct? Or are they just going to keep lying? All the cover ups, the slaughtering? Seriously? Sarah with Warlock in her office? You really think she cares about him? She’s putting 15,-16 dogs a week or less on timestamp. We are the ones working feverishly to save their lives. Everyday, adding one, two, more as we barely get a couple off the list, she is a habitual liar, along with everyone else there, people see what’s going on, but are afraid to speak up because they will be sent on their merry way, the cover up and murder of Saint and just recently of a dog a family was desperately trying to find, was at acct, they had not checked for a chip, quickly renamed the to Baja Blast, said the dog became aggressive which was a lie, and immediately euthanized him. The family had just found out he was at acct and was just put down. That place is not clean, they do not sanitize or sterilize properly, all the dogs are getting URIs and they are NOT being treated, if they are it’s not properly, most are turning into PNEUMONIA and some are being euthanized because supposedly they were too sick. They DO NOTHING for those dogs. I have been to Acct I have seen that place, I don’t get where you see all is well, like butterflies and ice cream. You’re saying you were there pre covid? Well you need to get the hell there now, unannounced and get your head out of your ass open your eyes and see what’s going on. Sarah has lied about everything, the amount of dogs murdered!!! On a daily basis is staggering, timestamped dogs, as well as silent kill dogs, oh and that lie people asking their dogs to be euthanized omg. Every dog has a horrible write up, it’s an automatic death sentence. Every dog has a behavior problem. They do not have qualified people at that place to determine these dogs behavior properly. It’s a shit show, and you stepped in it, especially if you believe what you saw, and what you say. You need to rethink everything, people are sick and tired of that murderous tyrant killing all of those dogs. Killing for profit? Yes we’ve all heard about that as well, misappropriation of funds, shit is very wrong over there, nobody does anything about it!! The dogs suffer for it, more and more dogs everyday a murdered under her tyrannical reign. She needs to go along with the rest of them. People that somewhat have hearts and believe in a no kill movement need to be put in there, it can be done, I’ve seen it done. There’s no need for the way that psycho is killing all those dogs, believe me she’s covering up alot, and there are alot of people that know about everything.

      1. We are all zealots. Easy to call people names but at least we are trying for change. Your article sounds supportive of that death dungeon. How can you say you support the animals when you laud the murderers in print?
        You want facts?
        Saint: tortured then murdered cruelly by an employee. It’s in the court system. Easy enough to check. What happened to the poor pup’s body as evidence? They got rid of that fast didn’t they?
        All the dogs time-stamped, lied about behaviors. I own a pit bull rescued from there. She’s amazing, loving, gentle & healthy. But I was told completely different by herself.
        What about bodies/carcasses being sold? Where’s that money? Not accounted for I’m sure.
        Why don’t you interview employees, rescues, volunteers away from there? Without threat of retaliation?
        I ask you sir: Do you want the truth or not?

        1. No, “we” are not all zealots. Not to brag, but MY reporting killed PACCA in 2004, based on FACTS provided to me by insiders — not accusations without proof, such as pay for dead animals.
          Google my name and ACCT and educate yourself to what I have done.
          If you have FACTS you want to share, my email is

  4. Lol I expected as much from you. Big words from someone who’s so blind to what’s going on, oh I know 💲💲💲💲covers up everything there is proof and people have shown the proof and none of you crooked pos in Philly want to do anything. To help, as long as you see what only gets shown to you.. there’s plenty of proof. People have it, People have been asking, begging for help even after showing PROOF but nothing gets done. So you need to look into things more before you start calling people useless or saying they have no proof, because with the amount of everything that’ people have you’ll be eating your words once it all comes crashing down. It’s coming!!

  5. Sarah is a serial manipulator: ACCT just posted a 90% live release rate for dogs for August 2022. ACCT murdered 93 dogs in August, but they claim 52 murders were owner-requested so they only counted 41 out of 93 for their stats.

    1. It is true they now don’t count owner requests for euthanasia. That is a change and creates a new baseline. I agree owner surrenders for E should not be counted against ACCT.
      Like so much wrong with ACCT, bad owners are the problem.

  6. Hi Stu, can you find out some data for us? Since you look into animal welfare, which shelters, in which cities and states have zero or near zero euthanasia rates for dogs and cats? Can you obtain ACCT Philly’s budget proposal, how the money is actually going to be spent? Can you obtain ACCT Philly’s Mission Statement? Any plans to get a vet on-site that can issue medicine and actually make sure the animals take it on a regular basis?
    Where’s the list of rescues ACCT Philly’s currently working with to rescue dogs and cats? What’s the latest health department report on the buildings safety, cleanliness? What are their plans to educate pet owners, start a food pantry or low to no cost vet care so less animals are dropped off or abandoned?
    As to who will run the shelter, you are correct that constant switching causes miscommunication among staff. However, due to the murder my ACCT Philly and a few employees against a dog named Saint, the old director had to leave. The guy who broke Saints’s jaw is still there. Sarah and Tara are both applying for the director position but do not seem to be fully qualified- if I’m wrong, that can be fixed by seeing both of their resumes. It clearly states shelter and administrative knowledge. Running a shelter is very hard, especially if you have empathy for each animal. You would work your butt off to save them all. I’ve been an EA for over 15 years and have worked with rescues, fostering dogs and cats for years. Would that make me a good candidate for the job?
    The reason I’m asking all these questions is that a few years ago, I was in ACCT Philly to pick up a foster dog. She came in healthy and got an URI. honey should have been on meds for 5 days, it was only day 3 and when I asked for her meds, a worker said there weren’t any. I demanded the vet see her before she left, to give me her meds. Turns out Honey didn’t just have a URI, she had pneumonia and ended up spending a weekend at the vet’s in an oxygen tank. The place was filthy, staff we’re lackadaisical in their approach to me and Honey.
    So I ask again, can you list for me and everyone else, any and all shelters that are at zero or close to zero euthanasia? ACCT Philly needs to follow those guidelines because all I see are restrictions on which rescues can pull animals, lack of promoting all dogs and cats, serious lack of professional evaluation on each animal. As a shelter specialist, Tara and Sarah should fully understand how a good dog is so scared they react when in a scary, loud shelter, missing their families and not knowing why they aren’t home! Instead, they are time stamped. Not promoted, no behavioralist is working with them. It true my breaks my heart to not be able to help pull dogs and cats. I’m full up with my own pets and fosters. Nursing a cat with cancer, trying to get a new little boy to trust me.
    We all need answers so maybe you can help get them for us.
    Thank you,

    1. No, Carol, I am not free to do your research. Much of what you ask can be found on ACCT’s website. I ask questions pertinent to a story I am working on.
      By the way, Tara is NOT applying for the job, at least as of last week.

      1. Stuby you aren’t even doing your own research. You refuse to address several mentions here of the murder of Saint. Court records are easily available. Why is a brutal murderer of this poor animal at least not suspended until the case is over & either guilt or innocence is established?
        My saying we are zealots was sarcasm. I really thought you were smart enough to catch that. My mistake.
        We are people who are dealing with many animals from this house of horrors. We are fosters, owners, rescues trying to rush to save as many as we can while Sarah constantly adds time-stamped animals, new to the shelter without proper assessment, without any basic care or medicine and with absolutely NO time.
        And there’s no way that many owners are requesting euthanasia. Most of these dogs are tied up outside & abandoned, brought in by police & animal control or dumped & the owners just make up an excuse.
        The stories just aren’t adding up to any truth. Its obvious you have a slighted opinion favoring the current administrators of ACCT. You also aren’t used to criticism which any real journalist would expect. Instead you delete people who don’t agree with you.
        And being away from there by your own admission since before covid, you obviously have no idea what is really going on there. We do.
        Telling someone you won’t do their research just shows that you obviously aren’t interested in the truth. Telling us to give you facts? Why should we? How about you do some actual research yourself? After reading your article, you have shown that you definitely haven’t.

        1. My answer to your ignorant remarks are below. Unlike gasbags on social media, I report only facts I can verify, not rumors and things you read unline.

  7. Don’t tell me to shut up! You are unprofessional, how are you any type of journalist?? Do you think I’d give anyone the likes of you everything I’ve got? Along with the rest of us????? There’s plenty of “PROOF” and when it all comes out, and goes down its going to kick you in the ass really hard. I’m actually not the one running my mouth. You’re arrogant, smug,and obviously are being paid to say what they want you too. Because Acct is a SHITHOLE. I have been there and it’s not what you claim it to be. I know plenty other people as well with info, pics, proof that ,that place is nothing but a slaughter house. You need to wake up. Go back to reading your book journalism for Dummies!! Because any journalist we’ve spoken to has not talked to any of us the way you do. Rude Ass

    1. Shari, any true journalist could accept criticism especially on such a heated subject. He hasn’t done proper research, obviously favors ACCT current administrators, and wrote a bit piece based on one side. Not investigative journalism by any means.

  8. comment to Shari: with all your negative remarks and criticisms, how much time have you volunteered at ACCT or adopted or fostered? I have adopted dogs and cats from ACCT and currently volunteer in the laundry room. we at ACCT need more volunteers and more responsible community support in the areas of donations, volunteering and fostering and adopting. all the kennel attendants I have met in this past year plus — are caring dedicated animal caregivers. join our ranks —- LIGHT ONE CANDLE INSTEAD OF CURSING THE DARKNESS.

  9. comment to Shari: with all your negative remarks and criticisms, how much time have you volunteered at ACCT or adopted or fostered? I have adopted dogs and cats from ACCT and currently volunteer in the laundry room. we at ACCT need more responsible community support and more volunteers, fosters and adopters. more donations. all the kenel attendants I have met in this past year plus while in the laundry room — are dedicated, caring animal caregivers. JOIN OUR RANKS. VOLUNTEER. FOSTER. ADOPT. LIGHT ONE CANDLE RATHER THAN CURSE THE DARKNESS.

  10. I find it fascinating that there is more give and take in this, the ACCT column than the Oz-Fetterman column. Just goes to show we love our pets better than our politicians. (Definition of an honest politician: “One who is bought and stays bought.”)

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