Current and former staff and volunteers and a board member at the Chester County SPCA said recently that they had reported mistreatment and neglect of animals to shelter officials, but that their accounts were ignored or not addressed seriously.
Conrad Muhly, the board president, and other board members declined requests for comment on the allegations.
The shelter has defended its performance. "Our staff and volunteers will continue to devote all our efforts to the compassionate care of the animals in our open-access shelter, where no animal in need is turned away," SPCA spokesman Richard Britton wrote in an e-mailed statement.
Among the incidents reported was one in which a bulldog was said to have been put to death after it tried to bite a worker, and another in which a dog's ear was twisted in an effort to make it behave.
The shelter accepts strays from Chester County as well as from most towns in Delaware County under a $30,000-a-month contract.
Thomas Judge of the Delaware County Animal Protection Board said the county would contact the SPCA to discuss the "care of the animals." He declined to comment further.
After complaints from current and former volunteers and staff members about alleged mistreatment and ineffective management, and concerns over rising euthanasia rates at the 84-year-old facility, state Department of Agriculture inspectors have visited the complex four times.
In the most recent inspection Aug. 30, they found that housekeeping concerns, raised during an earlier visit, at the shelter's Lenape Road annex had been corrected.
The inspections did not address concerns detailed in letters to the board, obtained by The Inquirer, and interviews with current and former staff and volunteers.
In June, Mona, a bulldog mix prone to painful ear infections that became worse while at the shelter, was euthanized after she tired to bite a staff member, said Leslie Celia, a former volunteer.
Last year, a pit bull puppy was found to be sick, and a "huge amount of blood" was seen in her wire cage. The staff, concerned the dog had parvovirus, recommended the dog receive outside care and be monitored overnight. The memo was unclear as to whether the dog received veterinary care on the night in question.
"The dog was left at the shelter alone and died that night," a letter from staff members to the board said.
Petey, a shelter ambassador with the "Dogs on Tour" program, became sick with worms and was isolated in a feces-infested quarantine room for more than three weeks. With little human interaction, he was labeled aggressive and euthanized, volunteer Kenneth Schmidt wrote in a letter to the board last year.
Former board member Carin Ford said she witnessed kennel technicians twisting dogs' ears twice to get them to comply.
"I was horrified when two different people reached over and twisted the ear" of a dog, Ford said. The two pit bull mixes "fell over yelping."
Volunteer Ariela Keene of Exton said she was at the shelter at night last month comforting a nervous pit bull when the lights dimmed. Seconds later, she said, an air horn sounded.
"It scared me," Keene said. She said the noise startled the dogs. She said she asked employees at the shelter, who she said were laughing, why they blew the horn. She was told the horn usually is sounded to break up dog fights, she said.
"They didn't do it to break up a dog fight, they did it because they were goofing around," Keene said. She said she told a manager but did not believe the issue was addressed.
Ford said a pit bull named Chance showed up at the shelter filled with energy. Within months, he became rail-thin. He was seen by the shelter's part-time veterinarian, Ford said. She said she did not know the cause of the dog's illness.
"Chance wasted away in front of our eyes," Ford said. "His deterioration was so severe, the humane thing was to euthanize him."