Shelter must improve conditions for animals

One November night in 2003, some friends and I were returning to our parked car when we spotted a little orange and white cat. She was extremely dirty and skinny. We wanted to do something

One November night in 2003, some friends and I were returning to our parked car when we spotted a little orange and white cat. She was extremely dirty and skinny. We wanted to do something for the cat, but none of us could take in a new pet at the time. So we left – or tried to leave – but the cat followed us and jumped on the hood, crying to be let in. I opened the door to try and make the cat go away, but she jumped inside the car and would not get out.

I ended up taking her home and gave her food and a place to sleep. My parents and I attempted to come up with something to do with her, from looking for lost cat signs to trying to get a friend to adopt it. The last option on our list was to take it to the local SPCA in Delaware County. We would keep the cat before we sent her there. After exhausting other options, we decided to keep her.

To send that cat to the SPCA would have been just shy of an automatic death sentence. the Delaware County Daily Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported on the horrible conditions found in Delco’s SPCA. Visitors have complained about terminally ill animals, untrained workers, animals being given shots improperly and poor ventilation, just to name a few. While this issue may have only recently been exposed in a paper as large as the Inquirer, the Daily Times and its readers have known about the conditions there for years.

The very name of the SPCA – The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – is that of a group that should be caring for these stray and mistreated animals by maintaining exemplary facilities. Although workers are not being cruel to the animals, the dogs, cats and other animals unfortunate enough to end up there are living in terrible conditions.

Leonard Simmons, a retired veterinarian who volunteered at the Delco SPCA in the 1990s, called the place a “hellhole.” Another volunteer who adopts cats from SPCAs all over the Philadelphia area said Delco’s was the worst she had ever seen.

The Daily Times found that in June 2004 about 90 percent of the cats they took in were euthanized. In July it was 87 percent. Delco SPCA officials say there is a spike in the number of cats taken in during the summer months, but those percentages are ridiculously high. If you found a cat on the street, it would have a better chance for survival if you left it there than if you brought it to this SPCA.

In addition, many of the animals there are sick. People who have adopted pets have complained of having to pay enormous vet bills for their new pet and even of their pet dying. In some cases, the new pets have even passed contagious diseases to people’s current pets. One would think that a vet would be permanently on staff to take care of these animals, but the SPCA board only pays for a vet to be at the shelter for four hours a week.

Experts have accused the board of hoarding millions of dollars in funding instead of spending it to improve conditions of the shelter. Those on the board who have called for change – including one member who went as far as to insist the entire board should resign – have been fired.

There are a few things that people can do to remedy this, in Delco or anywhere else in the country. If you find a pet, try to get it adopted yourself or take it to a no-kill animal shelter.

Pet owners shouldn’t let their animals run free. Anyone who has watched The Price Is Right has heard Bob Barker’s famous advice at the conclusion of the show, “Remember to get your pets spayed or neutered.” If people take the extra step to help manage the pet population, no shelter will ever have to kill 90 percent of their animals.

The entire situation is appalling. It is not a matter of corruption or greed, it’s a matter of caring; the board does not care enough to give these defenseless animals better lives.

Torin Sweeney can be reached at

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