The woman who just resigned as the leader of the city animal shelter, and the man who oversees it, recently had it out in a brutally frank exchange of guided missives.
Firing first was Brian Abernathy, Philadelphia managing director, who supervises the city animal shelter, known as ACCT Philly, located at 111 W. Hunting Park Avenue, in Feltonville. He was targeted, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, during an August 21 pro-ACCT protest outside City Hall.
In the broad overview offered in his email, sent to everyone who wrote to him, Abernathy made several startling admissions.
- Funding levels for the shelter are indeed below the national average
- Funding for all city departments is below the national average
- Many of Philly’s communities are violent
- Two institutions found fault with ACCT’s disease management practices
- While funding to ACCT has increased slightly in the past year, “conditions at the shelter have deteriorated dramatically.
“These failures are unacceptable and the city has put the board [of directors] on notice that we expect them to be addressed immediately,” Abernathy wrote. I imagine him stamping his foot.
The board certainly deserves some blame, but the chair of the board is deputy managing director Joanna Otero-Cruz, appointed by Abernathy himself. Board members are approved by the city and the board hires the executive director, so Abernathy can’t avoid his own culpability.
The city does provide, rent free, the facility for the animal shelter, a former warehouse that everyone knows is too small and dilapidated. While it is true the city has made some improvements and installed new HVAC recently, the building is still a mess that doesn’t allow the isolation of sick animals. That leads to the rampaging spread of disease.
As Abernathy notes, the city also provides vehicles to ACCT, which is a non profit funded and supervised by the city, but not operated by the city, which demands that employees be union members. The city seemingly likes not having direct responsibility for the facility, for whatever reason.
Now, let’s listen to Susan Russell, the ACCT executive director who recently resigned, after less than a year on the job.
She posted on her Facebook page, she says, “to correct the plethora of inaccuracies” in Abernathy’s email.
About the studies that criticized ACCT’s disease management practices, well, Russell herself commissioned one of them.
It is ironic that Abernathy would bring that up because he has known for at least a decade that the building is a cauldron of communicable disease.
The building, which ACCT shares with vector control, the city’s rat-catcher, is ironically infested with pests. The building is inadequate, and so is city funding, which spends less on animal care and control than cities smaller than our own.
Philadelphia was called “the most poorly funded municipal shelter in America” by Marsha Perelman, a board member of the Humane Society of the United States, at a 2017 City Council hearing. At the same hearing City Councilman Bobby Henon agreed the city does not “adequately fund” the shelter.
Perelman said Philly’s $4.3 million budget pales next to the $17 million spent by San Diego, population 1.4 million and the $14 million spent by San Antonio, population 1.4 million.
Chicago’s shelter is three times the size of Philadelphia’s, says Russell, who was the executive director of that shelter before coming to Philadelphia.
Well, Chicago’s population is 2.7 million, compared to Philly’s 1.5 million. Yes, but Chicago’s shelter handles 16,000 animals a year while Philadelphia takes in 18,000.
The deteriorating conditions at ACCT have been there for years, Russell wrote. She knows that second hand because she arrived in October 2018. I’ve been going into that loud, leaky, awful facility for more than a decade, and I know its inadequacies.
A previous ACCT executive director, Sue Cosby, had this to say:
“The shelter will always struggle with contagious illness because of the budget and the building. Animals die and are euthanized because of the budget and the building. Visitors and adopters have a traumatic experience because of the budget and the building. Staff and volunteers suffer emotionally and physically, with PTSD symptoms, being branded as killers — all because of things they have no power to change: the budget and the building.”
The people of ACCT know it. Animal advocates know it. Even Abernathy and Kenney know it — the city’s animal operation is under funded and located in a shithouse that drives both the animals and the staff to distraction.
In a $5 billion city budget, the amount needed to fix ACCT amounts to a fingernail. What is missing is the will to do it.