Pet store's move to take stray dogs highlights Delco shelter crisis


My Inquirer colleague Mari Schaefer today writes about the breakdown that has led to a sheltering crisis in the state's fifth most populous county. Most shocking to animal welfare advocates was that a pet store in Delaware County that buys puppies from puppy mills was illegally advertising that it would take in strays wihtout a kennel license. We note that a similar crisis exists in Lancaster County - home to the majority of Pennsylvania's commercial kennels - where the countywide shelter earlier this year closed its doors to strays without a suitable replacement, a disturbing pattern seen in other counties as well. Here is Mari's story:

The cracks in Delaware County's tenuous animal-control plan are widening.

 Some municipalities, chafing under the cost and inconvenience of shipping their strays to Chester County - in an arrangement brokered by the Delaware County Animal Protection Board - have approached a local pet store to take in their stray dogs and cats, the owner said. 

Michael Gill of We Love Pets, in Media and Springfield - which has been tied to the puppy-mill industry - said he could do the job for less and had looked into applying for a state kennel license. Gill, however, has decided the requirements were prohibitive.

For now, all but a few Delco towns are shipping stray dogs and cats to Chester County at a cost of $250 per animal. That deal was negotiated by the county after the Media-based Delaware County SPCA announced in 2010 that it would no longer take in strays.

Last year, a plan for a new state-of-the-art shelter fell through.

The county's problems are similar to those confronting many counties in the state where funding for animal protection has not kept up with the times, said Tom Hickey, a member of the Governor's Dog Law Advisory Board.

"Every week, we hear from another group getting away from the core mission of taking care of animals," said Hickey. The Lancaster County Humane League, he said, has recently announced it would stop taking strays.

Gill said his plan was to show off four to six dogs for adoption at his two stores. But after learning of the changes he would need to make to his businesses, he decided not to pursue the license.

We Love Pets has been a frequent target of animal-rights protesters who say the company purchased puppies from animal brokers. Gill would not comment on the allegations.

"We hoped we could help the animals," Gill said. "For what we would be required to do by law, we would not be able to handle that."

We Love Pets routinely accepts homeless animals not covered by state law from municipalities, including birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles - even alligators. The stores also accept a limited number of cats and kittens. Gill said he planned to continue that practice.

The county has struggled with the stray-animal issue.

Municipalities balked at paying increasing rates at the Delaware County SPCA, then criticized the private nonprofit when it opted out of taking strays.

Plans to build a shelter were scrapped last year after the projected costs nearly doubled, to $2 million, and the county declined to back a bond to finance construction.

County Councilman Mario Civera said that sooner or later, the county, with more than 550,000 residents, would need to build a proper animal shelter. He hopes funding will be freed up as the economy improves.

"I don't care what they say," Civera said. "There is no alternative."

In April, county officials held a license-and-microchip clinic for dogs at Rose Tree Park in Upper Providence, a venue hardly at the core of the strays' problem. Of the 1,352 strays taken to the Chester County shelter last year, 567 came from just three municipalities - Chester City, Darby Borough, and Upper Darby Township.

Said Springfield Township Police Chief Joe Daly, a member of the county's Animal Protection Board: "Somewhere along the line, people forgot what this is about - protecting animals."