PSPCA closes third shelter, stranding pets in two remote counties

Adding to the already dire animal sheltering crisis in the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania SPCA announced it will close the doors of its Wellsboro shelter on Saturday after 67 years of operation.

This will leave at least two rural counties - Tioga and Potter - in the northern-central section of the state without a shelter.  

The closure also raises questions about whether the PSPCA may be violating the intent of the will of a Wellsboro woman who bequeathed her estate to the group in 1939 for the operation of a shelter there.

To add to the mystery, what happened to a gift the PSPCA received in 2005 to open a shelter 43 miles away in Coudersport, which PSPCA officials said in 2007 would allow the organization to close the Wellsboro shelter?

Wellsboro is the third of six satellite shelters operated by the PSPCA to close in the past three years, leaving the organization with three shelters outside of Philadelphia.

PSPCA CEO Sue Crosby cited finances for the closure of the facility, which according to news reports had a $100,000 annual budget. 

"As the smallest shelter in its network, the Wellsboro facility continually faces annual budget deficits," said Cosby in a statement.

Cosby also said the PSPCA will continue to provide humane law enforcement services in the area. (If the PSPCA - which is laying off five Wellsboro workers - continues to employ a humane officer in that area where then will that individual take the animals seized in cruelty cases?)

The Wellsboro shelter, located about 225 miles northwest of Philadelphia, took in more than 230 dogs last year and an unknown number of cats and other animals.

The closure leaves pet owners and dog wardens with place to take animals within at least an hour's drive. Without a doubt, the overburdened shelters in neighboring counties will have a difficult time finding space.

Why did the PSPCA pull the plug on the shelter and give the community so littler notice? Wellsboro only stopped accepting animals at the facility April 8, according to a press release.

The Williamsport Sun-Gazette reports that last week there were 14 cats, six dogs and one rabbit available for adoption at the Wellsboro shelter, but that the number dropped to two dogs and one cat after the PSPCA lowered its adoption rate to a penny, yes a penny.

{Moving shelter pets quickly in two-for-one deals or penny sales has drawn criticism from animal welfare advocates who question whether someone who is unwilling to pay a modest full fee - in this case $75 for a puppy - is capable of caring for a pet and whether proper screening of adopters was done.)

The PSPCA is advising residents in Potter and Tioga to call the dog law enforcement officer for help. Among the several problems with that recommendation is the fact that the state has no officer dedicated to those counties since the death of warden Ron Adams in January.

In addition, dog wardens are charged with enforcing the dog law and picking up strays, not taking surrendered animals. And now of course they will have to drive a much greater distance both to respond and get an animal to safety.

Or residents can call the state police.

Here we have more problems. State police are supposed to respond to cruelty cases in areas where there is no humane officer. But, like the dog wardens, what are state police supposed to do with an owner-surrendered animal or a stray dog or cat or rabbit?

How will someone who loses a dog know where to go to find him? (Does this concern sound familiar people of Delaware County?)

And what about cats and small animals? Who is to provide them shelter?

And what of the dueling deceased benefactors?

Wellsboro resident Marion Simpson Siemens bequeathed her 64-acre farm and $367,000 in cash to the PSPCA in 1939  for the operation of an animal shelter.

In 2005 Helen Miller of Potter County left an unknown amount of money to the PSPCA to open a shelter in that county. A PSPCA official was quoted in the Wellsboro Gazette in 2007 saying the organization planned to close the Wellsboro shelter, sell the property and relocate to Coudersport.

But that, of course, never happened and as of Saturday neither county will have a facility to care for unwanted pets.