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.
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.