Pandemic is a plus for homeless animals

I hope this doesn’t come across as a desperate attempt to find a silver lining in a dark cloud, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aurora Velazquez in front of under-construction ACCT Philly adoption center that was almost ready to open, then was closed by COVID-19. (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

But it is a happy fact that for the first time since Philadelphia’s animal shelter was reborn as ACCT Philly in 2012, the building at 111 W. Hunting Park Avenue in the city’s Feltonville neighborhood is far under capacity.

There are 46 dogs in the shelter that has cages for 70 large dogs and dozens more cages for smaller dogs. “About 85% of all ACCT animals are in foster care,” I am told by ACCT Philly Executive Director Aurora Velazquez, who started work here in November. She previously had been chief operating officer of New York City’s animal shelters.

There are 19 cats in the shelter, which can house 125. Shelter numbers this low are almost unbelievable.

ACCT Philly takes in more than 18,000 animals annually, and in 2019 achieved an 85% live release rate for dogs and cats with nearly 5,700 adoptions and more than 6,100 animals transferred to rescue partners, according to its records. 

So while the pandemic has been catastrophic for human life, it has been an unanticipated boon to animals caught in shelters, not just here, but around the country. Lots of people find they now have the time, and the need, for animal companionship.

Even more amazing is that the life-saving is being accomplished with the shelter basically closed to the public, working on a limited emergency services basis, says Velazquez. I have been writing about the animal shelter since 2004, when I wrote an expose under the headline “Cruel Cages,” and these are the best numbers I have seen at the shelter.

“It seems strange to say there has been positives for lots of animal shelters,” says Velazquez, but it has happened at shelters across the nation. It happened here “due to an outpouring of support from the community and the amount of engagement,” she says.

When ACCT Philly knew it would have to close, it put out an urgent call for foster homes, and an amazing 1,200 people stepped forward. That’s where most of the shelter dogs are residing, in comfortable homes without the stress found in any animal shelter.

Since COVID-19 hit, 454 animals have been put in loving homes, 375 are in foster care, and 591 have been transferred to rescue partners.

Because of the low number remaining in the shelter, the dogs get walked twice a day and have play periods with staffers who have time to take a breath. This is a luxury fir man and beast.

But if the shelter is closed to the public, how can dogs be adopted out?

It’s kind of like Amazon for animals. Potential adopters go to the ACCT Philly website and see photos of all the furry friends in the shelter. They call the shelter and speak to an adoption counselor who provides details about the dog or cat — age, gender, breed, temperament, and so on. Once the paperwork is done, an animal control team drops the animal off at its new home. Place an order and wait for delivery. Just like Amazon.

If it doesn’t work out, as sometimes happens, the animal can be returned.

“With so many animals in foster,” Velazquez says, “we can connect adopters with foster homes,” which can provide in-depth information about the animal.

I suspected that the number of people surrendering their pets might be rising along with the unemployment rate and families going broke. Pets must be fed, but Velazquez says there has been no rise in surrenders. There has been an increase in ACCT Philly’s charitable pet pantry, from 100 to 200 clients per month.

Things are going so well, I hesitated to ask when things would return to “normal.”

“What we are doing right now,” Velazquez says, is figuring out what they are doing that can be carried forward.

Whenever the green light is flashed, the “return will be a phased approach,” in consultation with the PSPCA and the PAWS rescue group, says Velazquez, who is living through a dark cloud with a deep silver lining.

20 thoughts on “Pandemic is a plus for homeless animals”

    Director Velazquez has come to Philly at the right time. As you have pointed out before, Philly – including ACCT Philly – is in deep trouble. Let’s hope things get better for the critters.

      1. True that, pallie. No help from the city all of these years ( turn a blind eye ). Starting out with such low numbers for the boarders, is almost the same as no boarders.

        1. Tony, Hopefully the budget cuts here in Philly do not include ACCT Philly. From what I have learned their budget is currently far less than is needed.

          1. H,
            As you are probably aware. Most of the money that went to the now ACCT Philly, didn’t go to the animals. It’s only because of people like Stu, that a positive is replacing the many negatives.

          2. Tony, I am sadly aware of what you said. Over the years Stu and I have had a number of discussions about animals in general and I am sure we have talked about ACCT Philly.

  2. Stu,
    Thanks for good news! We could never live without a dog, and Ginger has provided so much laughter and companionship during these times of isolation. This pandemic makes us appreciate how much love pets bring into our lives, and animal foster care is a fantastic way to try it out.

    1. Suzette, While I have never fostered I have had a number of rescue dogs over the years including the two I have now. I can vouch for their love. I wholeheartedly recommend getting a rescue animal.

      One of the two I currently have was just hours away from being put down when he was rescued. When I see the love and affection he shows to me it is difficult to accept that if the rescue group had been too late his love and affection would not be here.

      Please give Ginger a big hug for me. I hope all of you stay safe.

  3. Our rescue did it like that long before this pandemic. We are a volunteer fosterhome network with no physical building.

  4. To me, There is no silver lining in delivering dogs to homes without anyone from the home meeting them. Many dogs look great on paper but the connection and the dogs opinion of the humans is what counts and that’s not being taken into consideration with this “Amazon-like delivery of dogs”. No animal should be delivered to a home because 2 people spoke on a phone and decided it’s a good fit. Have some worked out? Sure. Does it make it right or even have the animals best interest in mind? No.

    The fosters are amazing and without this wouldn’t be possible. Fosters meeting with adopters to see if they’re the right fit is what’s best for the dogs, not delivery without meeting. So, I sure hope that isn’t one of the ideas that gets “carried forward”.

  5. Correction if you come with a pregnant cat they will fix it. But unless injured, sick or pregnant; the rest are to be put back where you found them to increase overpopulation.

  6. This may be a silver lining for ACCT, but it’s not for the city’s homeless cats & dogs. I am one of those who fosters cats. I currently have a litter of 3 in my bathroom and 3 bottle babies in my laundryroom.
    What this pandemic did was make kitten season, which is already insane, much harder than usual. I also to TNR and because many places such as ACCT had to go on limited service and reduce spay neuter services, we’re having more kitten births, and fosters such as myself are scrambling to care for them. Let’s not forget the many injured make cats who are in heat and fighting. I under why s/n surgeries are scaled back. Human life should come first. However to say that the number homeless pets has been reduced isn’t true. They may not be at ACCT, but they are still out there.

    1. It IS a silver lining in that more lives are saved. Are there also problems? Yes, you acknowledge the pandemic.
      Kitten season is ALWAYS a horror. Thanks for helping by fostering.

  7. I rarely delete, but, first, you don’t have the courage to use your name. Sexond, it would take me an hour to answer all your issues, some of which are wrong. I go through this with “informed” critics every time I write about ACCT, and frankly, I’ve had my fill.

  8. Hi Stu! This is your neighbor! me too! want to try to have a dog, foster, before adopt. A couple of days ago I registered with that store on 17th and Spruce. I think the call the group Save Me,. I haven”t had a dog for many years, since I am in an apartment. I think I should try to foster, before adopting. Please let me know your suggestion Thanks, Bella.

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