Philly has no shortage of animals who need help. But while issues with feral cats and stray dogs may seem stubbornly persistent, the numbers tell a different story: outcomes have drastically improved for homeless animals in the last several years.
At Animal Care & Control Team (ACCT) Philly, 83 percent of the cats and dogs that entered the shelter in 2017 survived. In 2005, that figure was only 11 percent.
On Wednesday, leaders from ACCT Philly, the PSPCA and The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) announced that they are joining forces to get the number of "saveable animals" who die in Philly even further down, as part of the collaborative new "Philadelphia No-Kill Coalition."
"Our life-saving percentage is 83 percent. But we do realize that, even though eight out of 10 animals leave the shelter alive, that there are things that we can do for some animals who don't make it out alive," said ACCT Philly executive director Vince Medley. "This effort is to reenergize the public and to galvanize the three largest animal shelters in the city to redouble our efforts and make sure that we leave no stone unturned when it comes to saving an animal."
Leaders from the animal-loving groups say they believe Philly can be the next "no-kill" city in the U.S., following the lead from cities like Austin, Texas.
Some animal advocates define a "no-kill" city as one where the community's shelters are able to find homes for 90 percent or more of the city's homeless pets.
Planned for more than a year, the coalition brings together a dozen local animal shelters to share resources and information and hopefully "alleviate the burden of open-admission shelters," they said.
It doesn't mean that no animals will be killed, ever: sometimes even vets and pet lovers agree euthanasia is the most humane option.
"There's always going to be some level of euthanasia," said PSPCA CEO Julie Klim. "Sometimes you find an animal that's been so abused and neglected that it's aggressive and it's just not safe. ... There will be no killing of 'saveable animals' — but not every pet can be saved."
The drop in the numbers of pets in shelters and ultimately euthanized may be partly due to new low-cost veterinary clinics that weren't around a decade ago. Klim estimated that as many as 70,000 animal patients a year are now treated at these clinics.
Some animals lovers in Philly have been known to hold biases against one shelter or another for their kill or no-kill philosophy. But uniting the various organizations under the "No Kill" banner may go a long way toward ending the stigma, coalition leaders hope.
"There's now a collaborative, cooperative culture between animal organizations that perhaps wasn't as prevalent in Philadelphia in past years," said PAWS executive director Melissa Levy. "We will make Philadelphia a city where no healthy or treatable pet dies in a shelter."
Animal lovers against no-kill label
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said it does not support the 'no-kill' philosophy. On their website, PETA argues that shelters which do not euthanize strays will be more crowded or might reach capacity and stop accepting new animals that need homes.
"The real—not make-believe—solution to the homeless dog and cat overpopulation crisis is prevention through spay/neuter programs and the like, not to slam shelter doors shut and declare a 'no-kill' policy," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said via email. "What Philadelphia needs is a ban on breeding and pet shop animal sales, not to turn its back on animals with nowhere to go by denying them admission to shelters."
On the other side of the spectrum, PETA said, are open-admission shelters, which they support. (ACCT Philly says that in fact, it is an open intake shelter).
"Unlike so-called 'no-kill' shelters, open-admission shelters accept all animals in need and never turn them away for being too sick, injured, old, or aggressive to adopt out easily," Newkirk said. "Meanwhile, dangerous 'no-kill' policies can create a shell game in which animals are passed back and forth between shelters and rescue groups that may be hoarders in disguise or even result in homeless animals being dumped back onto the street."
PSPCA strongly disagreed with Newkirk's stance.
"We would invite Ms. Newkirk to read the details of our coalition's efforts and approaches. We are actually doing all of the things she suggests we should, and have not proposed or intend to engage in any of the practices she suggests are wrong," a PSPCA spokeswoman said via email. "We are focused on prevention through spay/neuter and other services for struggling pet owners. Philadelphia does have a ban on pet shop animal sales. We are not slamming shelter doors shut, nor are we "declaring a no-kill policy." We do not turn our backs on animals with nowhere else to go, nor do we deny admission to shelters."
The PSCPA also invited PETA to join the coalition's efforts: "We are striving toward a time when we collectively achieve a no-kill status as a city, because enough resources and services will be available to all people and pets who need them," they said. "We welcome anyone who would like to join us in those efforts to get involved by adopting, fostering, donating, or volunteering, and we invite all animal welfare agencies to become members of our growing coalition."
A No-Kill Team Effort
The No-Kill Coalition, funded in part by a $178,000 grant from PetSmart, is bringing together numerous shelters and groups. All coalition members are asked to adopt certain principles to reach their goal. These include:
-prioritizing the intake and rescue of vulnerable pets
-coordinating efforts to use and mobilize resources where most needed
-educating adopters about options for pets that require rehoming besides bringing them to a shelter; accepting returned pets regardless of time since adoption
Volunteers from Citizens for A No-Kill Philadelphia said they will step up and offering their homes to help foster vulnerable animals.
Learn more at nokillphilly.org.
By the numbers
The percentage of cats and dogs picked up by ACCT Philly that survived in 2005
How many cats and dogs picked up by ACCT Philly survived in 2017
dogs and cats received at ACCT Philly in in 2011
dogs and cats received at ACCT Philly in 2017