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Philadelphia owes shelter animals the chance to live I met Serena, a sweet tempered 5-year-old pit bull with a big white spot over her right eye, in June of 2016 while working at Philadelphia’s only open-intake shelter, the Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia. The sights, sounds, and smells of ACCT Philly are unmistakable: crowds of people huddled in the lobby waiting to surrender pets, pools of water built up around broken drains, ceaseless cries of dogs, the stench of urine and feces, and not a single window to let in fresh air or daylight. “Open-intake” of dogs like Serena means that ACCT Philly is contracted by the city, and the law requires it to accommodate every animal that comes through its doors regardless of whether the shelter has any open kennels. The resulting demand has created conditions that breed illnesses that can’t be treated effectively. Dogs have been dying of severe respiratory infections at ACCT Philly for decades, and in May 2019, those infections morphed into fatal canine pneumonia. Living in a diseased building with no way of being properly cleaned, many dogs don’t respond to medicine in the shelter and die in the care of overextended rescue partners. Medical complications of animals who might have gone on to live healthy lives with loving families render euthanasia the only humane option. The number of lives lost can be roughly counted, but the pain associated with those losses is immeasurable. It doesn’t have to be this way. Philadelphia only budgeted $4.2 million for ACCT Philly’s 17,021 animals in 2019. By contrast, NYC ACC, its New York City equivalent, received $17.6 million in city funding for 22,410 animals in 2019. I left my position as a lifesaving counselor at ACCT Philly almost three years ago, but few days go by that I don’t think of my time there. If you’ve never been there, it might be hard to imagine what it’s like to work in an open-intake facility. Space is limited. The endless cycle of animals brought in, whether stray drop-offs or owner surrenders, adds up. Suddenly, the shelter is full. You move quickly to assess, photograph, and promote every animal as urgent cases continue to flood in. You must spend enough time with each animal to get to know her as best you can without compromising time that could be spent helping another. You watch her sit in her kennel, as I watched Serena, overlooked because of her

age, her breed, her size. You devote yourself to her honest promotion, hoping someone will notice how special and deserving of love she is. You work to find her placement, and sometimes, you are successful! You are endlessly grateful to that rescue or foster parent you know well, or that adopter you’re meeting for the first time but can’t help crying on, staying in touch long after the animal has left. But imagine the animals who do not have the same good fortune of finding a foster or adopter. Imagine the grief and responsibility shelter workers feel when she can’t be saved. Now imagine receiving threatening phone calls, e-mails, and unsolicited in-person visits from members of the public who are outraged an animal has died. As coronavirus sweeps our city and our world, the pandemic has raised awareness about how the lack of capacity for emergency medical care threatens human life. This deadly math has been a chronic challenge for Philadelphia’s animals. Dogs are dying because there is nowhere for sick ones to isolate in life-supporting conditions and nowhere for healthy ones to live apart from sick ones. Dogs are dying from preventable diseases because they simply cannot get well in a diseased environment. Philadelphia needs to do better. It’s time to give ACCT Philly the funds it desperately needs to find a new building with property ventilation, a functional drainage system, plumbing that can support the dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers that make it possible to sanitize bowls, leashes, and bedding, isolation areas, and maybe even a little sunlight. While the mayor and City Council have their jobs, there’s also something you can do. You can be a source of support for the people working hard in broken systems: doctors and nurses, and animal shelter workers and veterinarians alike. Have compassion for the people who are fighting a losing battle when every minute can be the difference between life and death. Serena waited for a family for two crowded summer months until she got so sick she couldn’t stand. She was there when I left work one night and was dead when I came in the next morning. She was beautiful and perfect and mattered. Yes, I’m angry, and you should be, too. It’s time for us to channel that anger into action.

Sophie Samul is in her final semester of Columbia University’s Nonprofit Management master’s program. She started her animal welfare career at ACCT Philly and is currently the events and volunteer coordinator at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary in High Falls, New York.



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