In the opinion of animal activists such as myself, our city took an important step forward Wednesday with the creation of the Philadelphia No-Kill Coalition, with its goal of finding homes for all adoptable dogs and cats.
This is overdue and not easy to achieve.
The definition of "no-kill" generally means finding homes for at least 90 percent of at-risk animals. If Philadelphia achieves this goal, it will be the first big U.S. city to do it. There are about 240 no-kill cities now, the largest being Austin, Texas, and Jacksonville, Fla., each under 1 million population. Philadelphia has 1.5 million.
Major players in the Coalition are ACCT Philly, the city's animal shelter; the Pennsylvania SPCA and the nonprofit Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society; plus several smaller organizations, including Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia, founded in 2009. The coalition has no formal structure nor officers; it will be run by a steering committee comprised of ACCT, PSPCA and PAWS, according to PAWS's Melissa Levy.
The seed for the coalition may have been planted in the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals, launched at the Academy of Natural Sciences in September 2004 on a night it rained cats and dogs.
Founding member Tara Derby-Perrin told the 150 animal activists that the alliance was modeled after similar organizations in New York and San Francisco that vowed to slash the number of animals put to death, mostly through adoption of unwanted animals.
The Philadelphia effort fizzled and Derby-Perrin became the executive director of the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association, which was ACCT Philly's precursor.
The main focus of the current no-kill push relies on keeping animals out of the shelter and in their homes.
In a kind of empty attaboy, Mayor Kenney praised the launch of the coalition but offered no more funds for the underfunded city shelter.
At an April City Council hearing, Humane Society of the United States board member Marsha Perelman called Philadelphia "the most poorly funded municipal shelter in America." She said Philadelphia's $4-million budget contrasts poorly with the $17 million spent by San Diego, slightly smaller than Philadelphia, and the $14 million spent by San Antonio, just about Philly's size. Councilman Bobby Henon agreed that the city doesn't "adequately fund" the shelter.
No deadline to achieve no-kill status has been set, I was told by Samantha Holbrook, president of Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia. Levy said the Coalition will look for year to year improvements rather than set a deadline to reach its no-kill goal.
Maybe because of the work I do, I've always felt deadlines promote focus and create urgency.
Just a few years ago, the major lifesaving effort was cutting off the supply of unwanted animals through spay and neuter programs. That's still on the table, but the big push today is keeping animals in their homes by providing aid and support to pet owners.
At ACCT, in recent years intake numbers declined while live release numbers increased.
In 2017, according to ACCT, the live-release rate for dogs and cats was an all-time high of 81 percent, but that still means almost 4,000 innocent animals died in the shelter.
The goal of no-kill is within reach, but it will take a lot of effort from everyone in the animal care community. With that, and luck, it could happen in five years.