ACCT Philly co-director Sarah Barnett showed up at work one morning in April to find eight people waiting to give up their dogs. The doors of the North Philadelphia Animal Shelter hadn’t even opened yet.
Exasperated, she offered someone $50 out of her own pocket to see if that would persuade her to keep her puppy. Was the food the problem? Training? Would they be willing to rehome the dog themselves?
“They weren’t interested,” Barnett said.
The increasingly frequent scene is part of a spike in surrenders that is overwhelming animal rescues in the region, in part due to housing insecurity and a deluge of people unloading their “pandemic pets.” now that life is returning to some normalcy. At ACCT, the result has been overcrowding, more euthanasia and now, an epidemic that has forced the cash-strapped animal shelter to adapt on the fly.
READ MORE: Philadelphia animal rescues overwhelmed as families bring in pandemic puppies en masse
With 110 dogs housed in a space slated for 70, a pneumovirus outbreak ravaged kennels last month and sickened dozens of dogs with upper respiratory infections, Barnett said.
The disease spreads rapidly — and puts the 10 to 20 new dogs the ACCT welcomes every day at risk.
So this week, the ACCT is moving the 70 sick puppies to a temporary quarantine site at a former schoolhouse on Tulip Street in North Philadelphia, where the dogs will remain for several weeks until they are healthy.
The ACCT obtained the building at no cost and will staff it with the assistance of Brandywine Valley SPCA. The old classrooms make suitable kennels and the fenced playgrounds also serve as exercise areas.
“It’s emergency shelter like you would during a hurricane,” Barnett said.
A nonprofit founded in 2012 to take over the city’s struggling animal shelter operation, the ACCT’s decade-long run in Hunting Park has been beset by chronic underfunding and leadership at revolving door. During the pandemic, the city slashed the shelter’s budget by 18%, and last fall ACCT lost its fifth executive director in ten years.
During peak surrender, the shelter was asked to do more with less, building on private donations and partner organizations to ensure the nonprofit can take every dog that comes through the door, as part of its contract with the city.
But the ACCT cannot fill the kennels emptied by the virus, because those the dogs will return after their quarantine period. To stifle consumption while the quarantine site is running, Barnett said the ACCT’s main shelter at 111 W. Hunting Park Ave. is temporarily closed to most surrenders for a period of five days which will end on Friday. For the next few weeks, the shelter will keep discounts limited, urging people to reach out in advance before showing up to return pets.
READ MORE: After rotating leadership and chronic underfunding, what’s next for the embattled Philly animal shelter?
The ACCT said it would continue to do sellout prevention work with the desperate dog owners who come to their doors.
“We offer as many support services as possible,” said Marsha Perelman, co-chair of ACCT Philly’s board of directors. “But at a time when people are being kicked out of their homes like they are now, no amount of food, veterinary care or behavioral support will allow them to keep their dogs.”
Adoptions have not kept pace with the number of dogs entering the shelter, and animal welfare advocates are bracing for the problem to worsen this summer.
Once the pneumovirus outbreak is contained, Barnett said the goal is to bring the shelter back to its supposed capacity of 70 dogs by continuing to try to increase abandonment reduction, focusing on strays and injured dogs. .
“We need to take a tougher stance,” Barnett said.