PSPCA to clean shelter, evacuate animals

UPDATE: The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society issued the following urgent plea to help save the dogs about to be displaced by the emergency cleaning of the Pennsylvania SPCA's holding shelter: 

More than 120 dogs in the city's animal control shelter are about to be moved from one dangerous situation into another. As you may have heard, persistent disease at the shelter (111 W. Hunting Park Avenue) is prompting the PSPCA to embark on a full evacuation and deep cleaning of the facility later this week. At that time, every dog will be moved into a garage at the PSPCA's Erie Avenue location and housed in crates. They will live in those crates until they are rescued, fostered, adopted, or euthanized. They will not be returned to the animal control shelter. At the same time, all new stray and unwanted dogs coming in will be routed to the garage and placed in crates as well. Currently, animal control takes in about 25 dogs per day.


The PSPCA does not intend to euthanize these dogs on any larger scale than normal. However, the temporary housing (crates in a garage) is far from ideal for any dog, let alone for large, scared, and stressed dogs that make up much of the animal control population. Many dogs have behavioral or medical conditions that will simply not be manageable in the temporary setting. Sending them there will be a death sentence. In addition, with as many as 25 new dogs coming in every day, increased killing is inevitable unless dogs leave quickly and in very high numbers.


Rescue organizations have been asked to step-up their efforts to get more dogs out. But rescues already take as many dogs on a daily basis as they possibly can. The only way dogs will get out in any significant numbers is if the public comes forward to help. Please open your home to a dog who desperately needs you, and implore everyone you know to do the same. You can adopt a dog permanently or provide a temporary foster home. Either way, you will be saving two lives: the dog you take into safety, and the dog who will use the vacancy. There are dogs of all sizes, breeds, temperaments, and conditions; the lifesaving staff at animal control will help you find a good match. Every life makes a difference.


The rescue effort must begin immediately to reduce the number of dogs that will be placed in temporary housing, and it must continue once the dogs are relocated to the garage to minimize the time they must stay there and the number of dogs who will be killed.


The lifesaving staff at animal control is working around the clock and does not often have time to respond promptly to phone or email inquiries. Therefore, if you are able to take a dog into safety, it is best to go directly to the animal control shelter (111 W. Hunting Park Avenue) or to the PSPCA's Erie Avenue location (350 E. Erie Avenue) during regular business hours. A staff member will help you save a dog that is right for you. Both locations are open seven days a week. If you need to email in advance, you can contact or


Please forward and distribute this urgent plea as widely as possible; the more people who know what is going on, the greater the number of dogs that can be saved. Please do all that you can. They won't make it without you.


The Pennsylvania SPCA is taking the unprecedented step of removing all the animals from its Animal Care and Control facility on Hunting Park and placing them in the garages behind the SPCA headquarters on Erie Avenue in order to conduct a thorough cleaning of the Hunting Park building. This comes after an outbreak of strep zoo killed a black Lab last month.

Some rescue groups believe that number of deaths due to contagious disease inside the shelther is higher. They also contend that cutbacks such as the closure of the intensive care unit - which was designed to provide the North Philadelphia community with low cost veterinary services for serious illnesses - and fewer fulltime veterinarians, is playing a role in the severity of disease in the shelter.

The rescuers say they regularly remove dogs who are seriously ill, but who have not been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian at the shelter before being okayed to move. In the worst cases, they say elderly dogs with advanced cancer and other terminal illnesses being sent out to rescues when they should have been humanely euthanized.

Joy Cully, who runs a Philadelphia-area rescue for senior dogs called Adorable Adoptables that takes in many dogs from the PSPCA, suggests it would be more humane to offer a low-or no-cost euthanasia program for low-income residents with dogs and cats with terminal illnesses than to send them to the rescues. "It would be kinder to the rescues too," she writes in an email.

Gail Luciani, spokeswoman for the PSPCA, responded to the rescues' concerns in this email to me:

"The heart-breaking truth is that we work with sick, injured, neglected and abused animals each and every day, seven days a week. We do everything possible to help them recover and when necessary, we make the decision to humanely euthanize them if that outcome does not look likely. Because of our limited resources, we cannot provide extensive veterinary care, which is why we are so very grateful to the rescue groups that we work with -- thanks to their efforts, many of these animals receive expensive veterinary care, recover and are eventually adopted.

When we work with rescue groups, as in the cases referenced in the email, we provide full disclosure about the condition of the animals, and we ask rescue groups to sign medical waivers to ensure they understand what they are taking on. Upper respiratory infections are very common in the shelter environment, as is canine influenza, because these are the most vulnerable of the animal population, with little resistance to disease. Sometimes our vet is the first one that ever examines and treats them."

The PSPCA will also be asking owners who want to surrender their dogs and cats to hold onto them for several days while the cleaning takes place. They are also looking for donations of large crates, blankets and newspapers as well as volunteers to help clean and walk dogs during this period.

To volunteer or donate call the PSPCA at 215-426-6304.

One correction to note: Bill Smith tells me it was canine influenza, not kennel cough, that caused the deaths of the healthy dogs in his shelter in December.

Here's our story:

PSPCA to evacuate and disinfect city shelter
By Sam Wood and Amy Worden

Inquirer Staff Writers

A rare and deadly illness struck the city's animal shelter in June, killing six dogs. Three others were euthanized after showing signs of infection. The outbreak forced a quarantine at the Pennsylvania SPCA facility on West Hunting Park Avenue.

Last month, a Labrador retriever at the shelter in Hunting Park died of the same virulent infection - Streptococcus zooepidemicus, or "strep zoo" - prompting more drastic action.

PSPCA officials said last week they were planning a "population break" - emptying the shelter of dogs - in an effort to eradicate the disease.

After last year's outbreak, the PSPCA treated all the animals at the shelter with antibiotics and disinfected the former warehouse.

The same strain of strep zoo killed the three-year-old chocolate Lab last month, agency chief executive officer Sue Cosby said.

"It could be we never completely eliminated it from the building," she said.

Symptoms of strep zoo, which can be confused with canine influenza, include cough, runny nose, and fever. In severe cases, dogs bleed from the mouth and nose.

The plan, which Cosby expects to be finalized this week, calls for removing all the dogs from the shelter and placing them with animal-rescue agencies across the region. For two days, the building will be disinfected and degreased from top to bottom.

When finished, only new dogs will be admitted.

"It's a massive, massive operation," Cosby said. "But we felt a complete break was our only real option.

"I'm unaware of any other shelter of this size or in any other city that has tried anything like this."

Population breaks at smaller shelters have often involved euthanasia of many of the animals. That is not part of the PSPCA's plan, she said.

Health issues have plagued the shelter for years. Before Cosby became CEO, she worked for an animal-rescue group in South Jersey that pulled animals from shelters across the region. Illness was so rampant in 2008 that her group stopped taking animals from the Philadelphia shelter, she said.

Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, said the situation in Philadelphia had not improved.

Smith said that of the 300 dogs and cats he had taken from the PSPCA in the last year, virtually every one had some form of illness, ranging from mild upper-respiratory infection to strep zoo.

"Everything that comes out of there is sick," said Smith, who estimates his Chester Springs shelter spent $300,000 treating PSPCA dogs and cats last year.

One PSPCA dog taken to Main Line Animal Rescue in December with kennel cough caused an outbreak at the shelter that killed two previously healthy dogs.

The building itself is apparently at the root of the problems affecting the shelter.

It lacks adequate air circulation and a quarantine area where staff can isolate incoming dogs, said Michael Moyer, the Rosenthal Director of Shelter Animal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

"It's all one big common airspace," Moyer said. "If one is interested in lifesaving, one would be hard-pressed to end up at that design."

Melissa Levy of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society rescued 2,200 animals from the shelter last year. She said she expected most of the rescued animals to be sick. She also blamed the building.

"It was not built to house animals," she said. "When the city established it as an animal-control shelter, they paid no attention to how the building needed to be outfitted.

"It's a hotbed for disease," she said. "The problems are not going to go away. The PSPCA is doing what they can do, but they're working with a sick building."