Byko: 42 dead dogs, no one is responsible

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Two of the three dogs that survived a North Philly house fire on Nov. 23.

ON THE MORNING before Thanksgiving, 42 dogs perished in a rowhouse fire in North Philadelphia - and no one has been held to account.

All the appropriate agencies were on the scene, they seem to have done their jobs, and yet 42 innocent lives were snuffed out and no one was held responsible. Three dogs survived.

The Fire Department was first to arrive, before 11 a.m., to fight a rowhouse fire at 2423 N. Hancock St. that started on the first floor and raced upstairs.

When the Fire Department noticed animals at the scene, calls went out to the Pennsylvania SPCA, ACCT Philly, the city animal shelter, and Red Paw Emergency Relief Team, which helps rescue and foster animals injured or made homeless by disasters such as fires.

Red Paw was founded by Jen Leary, a former Philadelphia firefighter, and she told me her staffers were shocked by what they saw - the corpses of more than three dozen dogs.

One witness at the scene, who requested anonymity, said, "This was a hoarding condition. There are 42 dead dogs."

Red Paw's staffers searched the property and found the three live dogs, which Red Paw removed. Leary said all the dogs in the home were chihuahuas.

City law limits the number of dogs in a residence without a kennel license to 12, I'm told by Audra Houghton, ACCT operations director.

PSPCA spokeswoman Gillian Kocher said a humane officer was on the scene, and has responsibility to enforce laws banning cruelty and neglect.

"By the time the fire was out, any evidence of cruelty and/or neglect had been destroyed by the fire itself" or the water used to extinguish it, she said.

She said that while PSPCA had "concerns" about living conditions that it observed when it arrived, it did not have evidence of neglect, nor did it have previous complaints at that address.

Responsibility for enforcing the limit on the number of dogs in a home falls on ACCT.

When ACCT arrived, it had the sad, unpleasant job of removing the bodies of 42 animals that had the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The animals most likely died of smoke inhalation, said Houghton of ACCT, which sent an animal control truck and two animal control officers. "Our primary responsibility there is to be concerned with any living animal and if we see something that looks like cruelty, alert SPCA."

Although ACCT could have written up the owner of the property, identified as Colon Jesus Cordero on city records, it did not do so because "one of the PPD officers at the scene indicated to our officers that he was issuing a citation for that specific code violation, so we did not issue one of our own," said Houghton.

A police spokeswoman told me that the Police Department did not write the violation and that in most cases that is ACCT's job.

Leary said the rescued dogs were not malnourished, they weren't neglected, they didn't have fleas. Cordero was "genuinely concerned and was very appreciative when Red Paw dropped the animals at a relative's home," said Leary.

I could not reach Cordero by phone.

The sense I get from Leary, who met with Cordero, is that Cordero is not an evil man, he didn't abuse the dogs that had the run of his two-bedroom home. He seems to have been well-intentioned, as are many animal hoarders, but what he did was wrong and not in the interest of the animals in the long run.

He doesn't deserve jail time, but he does deserve to be punished. If the citation - which can range from $150 to $300 - wasn't written because of a missed communication, it's not too late for ACCT to write him up now.

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