Stop the breeding, save the cats

STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF Sue Cosby (left), director of ACCT, reviews plans for a neutering program with Holly Sizemore, of Best Friends Animal Society.
STU BYKOFSKY / DAILY NEWS STAFF Sue Cosby (left), director of ACCT, reviews plans for a neutering program with Holly Sizemore, of Best Friends Animal Society.
Posted: August 15, 2014

IT WAS ALMOST a decade ago, on, yes, a dark and stormy night, when a few dozen animal activists came together to talk about making Philadelphia a "no-kill" city for homeless animals.

There was serious talk and a soft goal of 10 years. Everyone went home happy, but with no action plan, just a gauzy expectation that if everyone pulled together, things would change.

Things did change.

They got worse.

Good intentions can't beat bad practices and the city shelter was a house of horrors.

After my expose of the shelter, then known as the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association, it was reinvented and then reinvented again. A little more city money was found for the shelter, now known as the Animal Care and Control Team .

It had several changes of leadership, some for the better, some not; some voluntary, some not.

The current ACCT executive director, Sue Cosby, previously worked there as chief operations officer from 2005 to 2007. She left, ran a shelter in New Jersey, returned to Philly to head the Pennsylvania SPCA, then boomeranged back to ACCT in 2012.

After a rocky start, things stabilized, then began to improve. If all goes according to plan - a direct plan - starting this month things should get much better, for cats, anyway.

In June, ACCT euthanized 50 percent fewer cats than in June 2013. The year-to-date totals as of June were 1,351 cats euthanized, contrasted with 1,972 innocent lives snuffed out last year. Big improvement.

Now, thanks to a partnership with PetSmart Charities and Best Friends Animal Society, a Community Cats Project has been launched to further reduce feline euthanasia numbers. "Community cats" are cats that live on their own, and Cosby estimates "70 percent of the cats who arrive in the shelter are free-roaming, unowned or stray."

PetSmart is kicking in $500,000 for a three-year program, enhanced by $200,000 from Best Friends, which also will furnish staff and equipment to neuter 4,000 cats the first year and 12,000 in three years, focusing on low-income neighborhoods across the city. Best Friends will provide staff, training, trapping, operating expenses and medical costs.

The plan? Trap, neuter and release the feral cats.

Philly is the fifth city to get the program, says Best Friends director of programs Holly Sizemore, following Albuquerque, N.M., San Antonio, Baltimore and Columbus, Ga. Philly was chosen, Sizemore says, "because Sue has brought a lot of creativity to the work."

The goal is to cut the number of cats going into the shelter by 10 percent by next June and reduce cat euthanasia by 25 percent by 2017.

"If the cats are happy and healthy living outdoors," says Sizemore, "this program allows them to keep doing that without reproducing." A colony of sterile cats will eventually vanish. It is a humane method of cat control.

The slow method doesn't work for everyone, such as the people who have gardens dug up by feral cats, or suffer urine smells or mating yowls.

To resolve these problems, Best Friends will supply ACCT with nonlethal solutions, such as a motion-activated alarm that generates a sound-only-cats-can-hear shriek when they pass by, or a garden-hose device that sprays water on them. They will be free to customers, first-come, first-served, with a donation requested.

Neutering the animals "goes to the root of the problem," Sizemore says.

A "no-kill" city is still not in sight, but ACCT is taking a big step toward saving more cats' lives with a little help from its friends - Best Friends.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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