Eileen Chamberlain, vice president of Spay and Save, a volunteer operation that tries to get pet owners from poor communities to spay and neuter animals, said the LCB sided with the SPCA and ordered the cans removed from store counters earlier this week. She said 370 cans had been in 150 Philadelphia- area stores.
But by the end of yesterday, amid inquiries to state officials by a reporter, the matter appeared settled and the LCB's Philadelphia office allowed the return of the canisters.
They still bear the same words: "Each year more than 60,000 discarded pets are routinely put to death in our seven local animal shelters! Spay and neuter dogs and cats before they have litters! Your donation to Spay and Save Inc. prevents unwanted births!"
Spay and Save, which raised $7,000 last year to help pay for spaying and neutering, does not operate a shelter. Most shelters in the Philadelphia area are run by the SPCA, which does destroy animals that go unclaimed.
Earlier in the week, Chamberlain said she was told by an LCB official that she would "have to contact the Pennsylvania SPCA and find out from them what they are offended about in the wording and change it to suit them."
"I was very disappointed. It was outrageous," she said.
Chamberlain said that at one point she had considered altering the message but that she checked with the group's attorney and he said, "Forget it, you have every right in the world to say what you have said."
"This a serious threat to First Amendment Rights," Gary Francione, a well-known animal-rights advocate and professor of law at Rutgers University who is representing Spay and Save, said yesterday. "The Liquor Control Board is saying, 'We will not allow people to solicit in liquor stores unless we approve of the content of their speech.' "
Francione said he had discussions with LCB and SPCA lawyers and threatened to sue "if we don't get this straightened out."
The SPCA said yesterday that its director was out of town and referred calls to its lawyers. One lawyer had no comment, while another was not available.
The LCB official with whom Chamberlain spoke this week was on vacation yesterday afternoon, and calls were referred to the agency's press secretary, Donna M. Pinkham, who was out sick. However, her secretary, Eileen M. Onufer, said the LCB had received a "complaint from the SPCA that said the message was objectionable because it reflected negatively on shelters in the Philadelphia area."
She said that the LCB's legal bureau was "looking over" the matter and that she would refer the problem to the office of James A. Goodman, chairman of the LCB.
But she suggested that the whole disagreement would soon be moot since the canisters were supposed to be in the stores only through August.
But later yesterday, Chamberlain said she had received word from a Mr. McLean saying the canisters could return to State Store counters. A Mr. McLean, who would not give his first name or spell his last - though an LCB directory lists James C. McLean as its store administrator in Philadelphia - said he received a directive from Harrisburg about 3:30 p.m. allowing the canisters to go back.
He would not say any more and referred further questions to the LCB press office, where the press secretary was not available for comment.