Accusations of animal neglect

An Action News Special Report
February 4, 2008 9:13:00 PM PST
It is a charged case involving some of Philadelphia's most vulnerable: abandoned, neglected or abused animals. On one side is the non-profit agency hired by the city under the Street administration to do the job. On the other side is the Pennsylvania SPCA, which has leveled some serious charges against the agency.

Philadelphia Animal Care and Control, better known as PACCA, is a non-profit agency hired by the city to oversee the animal population. It is supposed to pick up strays and care for neglected and abused animals. Since Tara Darby took over as CEO in 2005, the agency has claimed a measure of success.

"What has happened since that time is we've gone from an agency that was literally saving only 10 percent of the animals to saving over 60 percent in three years," said Darby.

But now the agency is accused of neglecting some of the animals it is supposed to save. PACCA is now being audited.

"There are concerns as to whether there is sufficient capacity at PACCA to take care of animals," said city controller Alan Butkovitz.

The city controller's office began its probe after serious allegations from the Pennsylvania SPCA.

"We're talking basic care. We're talking life-sustaining care, proper medical treatment working with partners to save animals," said Howard Nelson, CEO of the Pennsylvania SPCA.

The SPCA points to a number of animals it claims were being neglected and near death at PACCA. An SPCA staff member allegedly found a pitbull boxer bleeding to death in a cage after surgery to remove an embedded collar in its neck. The staff member rushed the dog to SPCA.

"We were able to save the dog, but it was a matter of minutes or the dog would have died," said Nelson.

Another dog was allegedly found dying from a large abscess in its neck that needed to be drained.

Darby says she was unfamiliar with these cases.

"Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Are we committed to do the right thing? Yes, and we'll work with anybody who wants to work with us and save the lives of Philadelphia's animals," said Darby.

The SPCA also accuses PACCA of misleading the public about the number of animals saved.

"Any animal that's transferred to another organization is listed as part of their save rate regardless of whether they have pneumonia or have a terminal illness and ultimately die," said Nelson.

Nelson says PACCA routinely sends animals to SPCA and other rescue organizations that are beyond any medical help, and then turns around and lists them as saved when in fact they died.

"Our position on that is a live exit from our facility is counted as a live exit. That is, the animal left alive," said Darby.

We should note that the SPCA used to have the city contract to pickup and care for stray and rescued animals, but gave up that contract saying they couldn't do it for the $600,000 the city was paying them.

The city is now paying three million dollars a year to PACCA. Some at PACCA believe these allegations are a motivated effort by the SPCA to get back the contract.

The SPCA says it doesn't want the contract, but what's next for Philadelphia's stray animals? The audit, according to the city controller, has only just begun. What happens will depend largely on the public's opinion and involvement.