Byko: ACCT bans rescue group on flimsy grounds

ACCT executive director Vincent Medley wants Tiny Paws Rescue to reveal who took a picture in side the facility.

On the surface, it doesn’t add up.

For Philadelphia’s Animal Care and Control Team to succeed, it needs rescue partners that pull homeless dogs and cats out of the shelter to keep them alive and make room for new arrivals.

It has just banned Tiny Paws Rescue, which has taken 156 dogs out of ACCT since the rescue was founded in February 2015. The contract termination seems based on slim and spiteful grounds.

It began with a picture taken inside ACCT, grainy and indistinct, showing a large, wheeled cart filled with black plastic trash bags apparently containing animal carcases.

While grisly, there is no surprise in this. ACCT is not a no-kill shelter and was forced to euthanize 2,108 dogs last year out of the 8,670 it took in. This information is available on the ACCT website. http://www.acctphilly.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/2015-Year-End.pdf?a32ecf

In July, that picture -- not newsworthy on its own -- was forwarded to Kim Astringer of Tiny Paws, who walks and grooms dogs at ACCT as a volunteer.

Concerned that the picture might go public on social media, Astringer forwarded it to an ACCT staffer she knows, to alert the agency of potential public-relations damage, according to Kim’s husband, Tiny Paws board chairman Mike Astringer.

That turned out to be a big mistake.

The staffer she forwarded the image to got a three-day suspension, I’m told, for not bringing it to leadership fast enough, while ACCT Executive Director Vincent Medley demanded Tiny Paws reveal who took the picture.

Mike Astringer says he told Medley that while he didn’t know who took the picture, he knew who forwarded it, but declined to say who. “I don’t know why he is making such a big deal out of this,” Astringer told me.

I wondered the same thing and contacted Medley to hear his side of it.

Unfortunately, all I got was a generic statement that ACCT “does not do media interviews for issues that involve discipline of staff, volunteers or partner agencies.”

Medley won’t talk to me, but Mike Astringer said Medley told him he wanted to know who took the picture as a matter of security.

The control-freak part of me understands a leader’s desire to run a tight ship. The reporter in me, however, knows the value of leakers, or whistleblowers on the inside, who will come forward to report wrongdoing.

When my reporting in 2004 blew up ACCT’s predecessor PACCA, it was done with inside help, from people who knew terrible things were going on and wanted to stop them.

That doesn’t seem to be the case here and now. In pursuing the identity of the person who took the photo, Medley is casting himself as a 21st-century version of The Caine Mutiny’s Captain Queeg, who turned his World War II vessel upside down to find a sailor who had stolen fresh strawberries from the ship’s icebox.

In his drive to find the “culprit,” Medley has banned a valuable rescue partner, one that specializes in dogs that are injured or sick that other rescues don’t want or can’t handle because sick dogs run up big vet bills.

In an email to Medley, Tiny Paws chairman Astringer called his rescue’s banishment “an attempt at blackmail and intimidation, unfair and a detriment to what is supposed to be all of our mission -- to save animals.”

The result of Medley banning Tiny Paws? One less rescue group available to rescue dogs from potential death.

Medley's is a self-inflicted wound that should be reversed. Good leaders know there is no shame in admitting to a mistake.