Philly animal shelter turnaround

Every so often journalists get caught in a time trap, when the facts of a story change before it can be published. 

That’s what happened here. If I were working for a newspaper, this would wind up in what we call the “round file” — the waste paper basket.

But this is my blog and I make the rules. I wrote this to request that a policy be changed. It already has, but…. there’s something else I want to propose, at the very end.

ACCT Philly Executive Director Aurora Velazquez with adoptable dog. (Photo: Stu Bykofsky)

The pandemic has affected not only people, but also dogs in the city shelter. The question is, how much?

Volunteers at ACCT Philly, the city shelter located in Feltonville at 111 W. Hunting Park Avenue, say a lot — that dogs are not being walked because they were banned from the shelter because of fears of COVID-19. Volunteers with whom I spoke requested anonymity because they fear retribution if their names were known.

ACCT Philly Executive Director Aurora Velazquez tells me most volunteers have not been permitted in the shelter — she does not like the word “banned” — since Nov. 29 “due to COVID.” (They also were barred for several months in the spring.) 

The reason for the “temporary suspension” was to thwart the spread of the virus, although only three staffers had reported positive tests for COVID. There was no spread, I was told. 

The suspension would be understandable if it were applied consistently, but it was not, as I will show in a minute.

“Without the help of volunteers the dogs will sadly suffer and will be stuck in the cages for days on end without being able to get out,” wrote one volunteer in an online petition to readmit volunteers to the shelter.

One told me color coded clips, like clothes pins, are put on cages to indicate days without a dog being walked. She told me she saw some cages with four or more clips. 

Being caged 24 hours a day stresses animals and leads to what’s called “kennel crazy,” making dogs fearful or aggressive and making them harder candidates for adoption.

Velazquez says kennel attendants walk each dog twice a day.

“They are blatantly lying when they say all dogs are being walked twice a day by staff,” says a veteran volunteer dog walker. 

The dogs that certainly are being walked are a few who are called Pen Pals dogs, which have a specific volunteer allowed to work with them at ACCT.

Velazquez acknowledges “Pen Pal volunteers are able to sign up and take dogs offsite.”

Here is the inconsistency I mentioned earlier. If Pen Pal volunteers are allowed in the shelter despite COVID, why not others? Of necessity, people who want to adopt are allowed in. So why not volunteers? Rescue groups are allowed in. So why not volunteers? 

Velazquez says the precautions are to protect staff from the infection, as staffing would drop if people got sick.

That is true, but volunteers respond that they need not have any contact with staff. 

“When we are at ACCT for three hours to walk dogs, we are only in the building for 20 minutes out of those three hours,” says one volunteer. “Rest of the time we are outside with the dogs.”

This one also says, “mask wearing, social distancing and keeping density low by making the public book appointments for adopting” were working, so there was no need for further restrictions. 

Volunteers I asked said they would sign waivers releasing ACCT from liability if they got sick, but Velazquez wasn’t sure they would be legal in the city’s eyes. 

Another volunteer says another role fulfilled by volunteers was shooting videos of adoptable dogs for posting on the ACCT website and that is now not being done regularly. A visit to the website showed pictures of dogs, but not videos.

I see no reason why volunteers should not be allowed back in the shelter to walk, exercise and play with the dogs.

And just like that — they are, on a part-time basis, I have just learned. There is no reason for it not to be full time, with the proper precautions. The dogs deserve better.

I also have learned because of the suspension, a number of volunteers have melted away and more are needed, lots more. You can contact ACCT Philly at (267) 385-3800. 

22 thoughts on “Philly animal shelter turnaround”

    Like you, I’m not often pleased by our politicians. Governor Tommy and his girlfriend have posted rules that are questionable to say the least. Philly’s own immortals have done just as bad.
    There is a working historic fam and village in Lancaster County, that has been shut down almost the whole time of the virus. There are animals on that farm that are barely getting by, only because people know that animals need care and to hell with the pandemic.
    As always, it’s too much effort for the government to stay on top of any situation. This covid could have – should have been managed with more thought. One size does not fit all. One quarantine certainly does not make for a good solution.

    1. Philadelphia, PA

      Dear Clark & readers,

      What we see from Stu’s story is that government by emergency proclamations (however necessary in the epidemic) does not work very well –relevant details tend to get ignored. The best hope for ending the mess is that we will all soon get needed vaccinations and the restrictions will then be wound down.

      Risking the paradox, one might say, “freedom is necessary.” (I borrow from R.W. Emerson, writing at the time of the emancipation.)

      It is not merely a matter of animals stuck in their cages and “kennel crazy” animals. People are also under a good deal of stress from lack of exercise and broader human contact. Notice, when you do go out, for instance, that there are crazy drivers a plenty.

      H.G. Callaway

      1. HAPPY FRIDAY !!!
        I don’t know why you insist on calling almost everyone by their last name. I doubt that you ever served in our armed forces, so I’ll rule out that the last name is on your clothing, and that almost no one called you any thing else. You selectively address a few by their first name, and always Stu by his given name. So, what gives ? I see it as a form of disrespect. If we were in class, you would not address your students as such. Mr., Mrs., Ms is proper. I doubt that anyone addresses you as Callaway. I would think that professor or Doctor would come before your last.
        Now for the reply. My point is this. Business and we in our houses do not make one rule and never change or modify it. Government is very lax in staying current with any issues. It involves too much thought. Such is the shut downs. If there are actually rules to follow that will benefit us during this pandemic, then they should be in place. We have rules and orders that do none of the above, yet government will not modify. It’s either “all in” or no restrictions.

        1. Philadelphia, PA

          Dear Clark,

          Have you never heard that “familiarity breeds contempt”? On the other hand, “distance (including social distances, sometimes) makes the heart grow fond.”

          Basically, I just reject the pretense of familiarity involved in calling everyone, whether you know them or not, by their first name. Its best too in internet exchanges not to become involved in sorting out titles and prefixes of address. If we actually get to know people personally, then things sometimes change.

          “It involves too much thought,” is about equivalent to “the devil is in the details” of government by decree. So, it is that “freedom is necessary.”

          H.G. Callaway

          1. Dear Howard,
            Did your mother ever teach you manners ? By protocal, people should be addresses by the suffix previously mentioned. Mr., Mrs., etc. If familiar and in the proper context, then the first name is acceptable. You apparently hold yourself at a different level callaway.
            I doubt that you know Stu, yet you are “familiar” with him.

      1. Stu, you should absolutely continue to care. Over the years you and I have a number of conversations about animals and I believe you care about them with all your heart and soul, the same as I do.

  2. As a former shelter employee who now runs an animal rescue in the Philly area, I’d like to point out that one major problem with “no kill” places is that dogs/cats do spend most of their lives in cages there, if not adopted quickly. And yes, it leads to kennel crazy which adds to the problem of unadoptability for especially older animals. But unfortunately the no kill crowd has convinced society that anything is better than humane painless euthanasia, so because of that many animals suffer in silence.

    Everyone has made good points here. Vince, very bluntly I believe, is saying that we are aware of the problem. Not too too many are doing anything about it.
    We live out here in Chester County. No neighbors to speak of, with a 600 acre land trust behind us. Because of location ( Amish farms ) , there are many feral cats. The Amish believe that it’s God decision, not theirs, to control the population. That’s probably why they all have six or more children per family.
    Well, we can’t do anything about that. However, we do capture the cats and have then neutered. A small fee is asked for individuals with a one time cat. We have been there quite a few times. ( they know us by name ) We also take the cats with us. 600 acres has a lot of mice, etc running around. And we still donate, because we can.

  4. Stu, you know that, I, like you, are extremely concerned about animal welfare and my check writing to support rescue organizations throughout the world has increased exponentially during the pandemic.

    But I do want to add that I am upset by the overly cautious approach in general that all of the shelters take. I have been actively involved with the PSPCA from a funding perspective for a number of years and a bit less so with PAWS. I always have four to five rescue dogs and cats in my home. I know from experience that a tired dog/cat is a good dog/cat. Yet, sadly, when I tried to create a program with Big Brothers Big Sisters, whereby inner city kids along with their “bigs” would have the opportunity to interact with shelter animals, grooming, exercising and just sharing love. It would help to teach kids responsibility and respect for animals and provide some much needed attention and love to both animal and child. While BBBS was all for the idea, as was their insurance carrier, I could find no shelter that would agree to it. in fact, to interact with dogs at most shelters, you have to be over 18 and have special training. All of the rules, like the one that you wrote about are more about lawyers and law suits than about the welfare of the animals that they are committed to serving. If you have any ability to cut through the bureaucracy, I would love to have your help to change these crazy rules. In the meantime, your posts help bring awareness, and that is much appreciated!

    1. Yes, it is fear of law suits. ACCT Philly had a REALLY big problem for a year or two in the past — they had several suits and could not find an insurance carrier for a while.

  5. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark,

    If you want some lessons on manners, I’m sure I could find some for you.

    As things stand, I do not know you from Adam.

    All for now.

    H.G. Callaway

    1. howie,
      there’s nothing that you do or have impresses me.
      I won’t be wasting any more of my valuable time .

  6. I had forgotten about this post because it arrived with the coup. Last time that i checked things were quiet. I’m glad I didn’t miss the fun😁

    I love cats!! But my wife is allergic..damn! Growing up there was always one or two around our home. One time we got two male Siamese brothers. One had no tail whatsoever. Mom picked names that I don’t remember. But my brothers coined them No-ass & No-ass’-brother. No kiddin’. And it stuck.

  7. Google “dog walking in philadelphia” and here’s the scary replies you get:
    Police: Suspects Arrested After Man Shot, Killed While …
    17 hours ago · The Philadelphia Police Department detailed the events in a blog post Thursday: The male victim, who was walking his dog, was approached by two individuals. During an apparent robbery one …

    Video shows recent Temple grad fatally shot while walking dog
    Video shows recent Temple grad fatally shot while walking dog
    2 days ago · A young Philadelphia man walking his dog was fatally shot during an apparent robbery attempt just one block from his home, police and his …

    Author: Joshua Rhett Miller
    Man Shot, Killed While Walking Dog In Philadelphia’s …
    Jan 14, 2021 · PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Police say a man was shot and killed while walking his dog in Philadelphia’s Brewerytown neighborhood Wednesday night. It happened near 31st and Jefferson …

    One charged with murder in the death of Philadelphia man …
    15 hours ago · PHILADELPHIA — A man has been charged with killing a man shot to death in an apparent attempted robbery while walking his dog a block from his home in north Philadelphia last week, …

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