Clock ticks on Delco stray animal crisis

UPDATE - Kaiser the Boxer has a home! He was reunited with his owners on Tuesday, according to the Delaware County SPCA. The Delaware County Times has more. We wonder if this dog's owner would have found and claimed him in time under the post-June 30 scenario. Consider the possiblity that municipalities may well be contracting with many different rescues or shelters all over the region. With a 48-hour hold the norm in Pennsylvania, the longer it takes to track down a dog the lower the chance an owner will find their pet alive.

CORRECTION - The Delaware County SPCA will not accept all owner-surrendered animals after June 30. The policy according to spokeswoman Justina Calgiano is this: "We will most likely be able to take in more owner turnover pets than we do now because we will have more space, but each will still be manager approved, meaning we will accept owner turnover animals based on the eventual adoptability factor."

There was a happy ending Monday for a Boxer found stranded, up to his neck in water, in Marcus Hook Creek.

A brave Upper Chichester police officer waded in after the dog and pulled him to safety, according to the Delaware County Times. The dog was taken to the Delaware County SPCA where he is getting medical treatment and, hopefully, will either be reunited with his owner or adopted.

If this incident had occurred six weeks from now all bets would be off.

The Delaware County SPCA will no longer accept strays - dogs, cats, iguanas you name it - after June 30. The decision to end animal control after almost a century is being driven by the organization's quest to become a "no-kill" shelter.

"Euthanasia is inconsistent with our mission," said spokeswoman Justina Calgiano.

As for the Boxer, she said, "most likely the police department would have taken him in."

Would they? And then what happens?

With no solution in sight, police departments across the county on July 1 will become ad hoc animal shelters. Are they prepared to take in animals? Do they have kennels? Who will feed, walk and clean up after the animals? Who will provide and pay for veterinary care?

How will roaming animals be reunited with their owners when an owner has no idea which police department has their animal? If no owner appears, how will they be adopted? Or euthanized?

There is no indication that any borough or township in Delaware County has a plan in place with the exception of Ridley Township, which has contracted with Morris Animal Refuge in Philadelphia, an open shelter (read "not no kill") to take its stray dogs for $125 apiece.

The clock is ticking toward a public health and welfare disaster for the people and pets of Delaware County. 

And what about cats?

The statistics are daunting. Last year the Delaware County SPCA took in 3,551 animals, of which there were 1,838 dogs and the rest were cats. Of those, 2,411 were adopted, 425 returned to owners and 873 euthanized. The city of Chester and Upper Darby accounted for almost a quarter of those animals.

The numbers dropped considerably from 2008 when the shelter admitted 7,500 animals, a decline Calgiano attributes to municipalities finding alternatives to bringing animals to the shelter.

The statistics showing 70 percent of the animals shelter takes in are strays are cause for concern for animal welfare advocates who charge the SPCA will become a "boutique" shelter, picking and choosing the animals it wants to take

Calgiano denies that allegation saying the shelter will continue to take all owner surrenders and will continue to investigate animal cruelty - seizing animals when necessary. It also will fill its kennels with animals from high kill shelters in the area.

That policy befuddles animals welfare advocates who ask: Why take animals from elsewhere when we can't provide for our own? 

Tom Hickey, a member of the state Dog Law Advisory Board, says he does not understand the shelter's abandonment of animal control at the same time it continues to conduct humane law enforcement.

"If an animal is in a house being abused and humane officer removes it it's safe, but if it's roaming the streets it's not, that makes no sense," said Hickey.

Animal welfare advocates accuse the Delaware County SPCA of betraying the animals in the county and predict their "no kill" policy will really mean "road kill," as hundreds of stray animals run the streets.

County leaders are scrambling to find a solution. County commissioners are in talks with a Chester County-based rescue, Dinah's Way, about the possibility of building a new shelter to handle animal control, but that will take time. There is talk of a lawsuit if the Delaware County SPCA does not give the county additional time to come up with a solution.

For now, one tentative plans calls for the county to build the shelter and Dinah's Way to operate it. 

"It's very tenuous right now, but talks are ongoing," said Sarah Speed, a Dinah's Way board member and Pennsylvania state director of the Humane Society of the United States. "It's a young organization and it will take a lot of community buy in to make it work."

Until then, police departments of Delaware County better start stocking up on dog and cat chow and thinking about where the prisoners are going to go when the animals start flooding in.