Making 11th hour appeals for death row dogs

Most anyone involved in animal welfare has seen or made use of the "death row" websites.

These are the places where rescue groups post last ditch appeals for dogs and cats in overcrowded shelters. Take your pick, by city or nationally, the websites post heart-rendering pictures of doomed animals. You can almost hear the clock ticking.

I was surprised though to see one such appeal posted on Craigslist for a dog being held by the Animal Care and Control Team in Philadelphia, the open admission shelter that takes in the city's strays - at an alarming rate we should add.

There she was, Dixie, a red pit bull, with floppy bunny ears. She was spayed, microchipped and up to date on shots. The description said she loved to give kisses and fetch. She was only a year old.


It was Sunday, past her expiration date.

I didn't know whether to think this was a creative way to try to place a dog in desperate straits or a reckless route that could leave her in the hands of an abuser.

I learned her fate on Monday. ACCT director Sue Cosby wrote to say no one had come forward and Dixie was euthanized.

She had been returned to the shelter for aggression issues and she'd had two more incidents since her return.

Three strikes on Dixie.

Turns out ACCT didn't place the ad, someone in their Pen Pal program had.

The program encourages shelter volunteers to promote their "pen pals" (dogs who they work with at the shelter), Cosby said.

"When Pen Pal dogs either have medical or behavioral issues, combined with the shelter being at capacity for dogs daily, that cause them to become candidates for euthanasia, their Pen Pal is given notice to assist in finding options for their dog," she said in an email. "We value and appreciate the relationships that form between Pen Pals and their dogs as well as all of the assistance that volunteers provide on behalf of the animals. We want them not only to understand how we arrived at the difficult decision but allow them time for last minute appeals."

Cosby said the difficult decision had to be made to free up cage space that was needed for incoming dogs.

And they do come by the thousands.

In October alone 2,859 dogs and cats crossed the transom at ACCT's Hunting Park headquarters.

Since the newly-reconstituted animal control group took over the city shelter contract earlier this year, 28,314 dogs and cats have come in. Twenty-eight thousand.

A total of 16,663 have left alive, thanks to the enormous efforts of rescue groups that in August, the busiest month, took in just shy of 2,000 animals. ACCT has an overall 61 percent "save" rate. But it still means 40 percent of the animals didn't make it. See the full statistics here.

Foster families are vital part of the network too, providing temporary care in their homes for needy animals, and so are the in-house volunteers who socialize the dogs and cats and help find them homes.

Losing animals, like Dixie, that volunteers have devoted so much time to helping must be heartbreaking.

What can Philadelphia do to ensure fewer animals enter shelters and of those that do more leave shelters in the arms of adopters and not trash bags?

One answer is to expand low or no cost spay/neuter programs. 

It's not that the city shelters aren't trying. ACCT spayed or neutered 6,500 animals this year. PAWS runs low cost programs from their Grays Ferry clinic and the Pennsylvania SPCA has launched a free spay/neuter service for pit bulls with the help of the Humane Society of the United States and the Eagles.