Media Room

Media Coverage

Press Releases

Videos

Blog: Out of the Cage!

 

Save a Life. Donate Now.

Adopt a Pet!

Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube

Out of the Cage! The Blog of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals

AmazonSmile

iGive.com

Guidestar Platinum Participant

Tara Derby, Executive Director, Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA), and Founder, Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals. (Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society)

Tara Derby, Executive Director, Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA), and Founder, Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals.

(Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Out of the Cage! (September 2006)

Philadelphia on the Road to No-Kill

An Interview with Tara Derby, Executive Director, Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association, and Founder, Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals

by Susan Israel

This article is the first in a series that will feature animal alliances that are springing up around the country, based upon the model provided by the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals. Each of these alliances is a collaborative effort among animal rescue groups and shelters to transform their city into a no-kill community.

The Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals is a public-private partnership with the City of Philadelphia that is working toward a time when no adoptable pet in Philadelphia is killed merely because he or she does not have a home. Acting as the liaison between the City government and the animal rescue community, the Alliance seeks to provide training and resources to animal care groups already working to place and/or spay and neuter Philadelphia's animals, thereby reducing and ultimately ending the killing of adoptable pets in Philadelphia's shelters.

If this mission statement sounds familiar to New York's, it's no surprise. The Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals is striving to achieve in Philadelphia what the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals is seeking in New York City: a no-kill community, where no healthy or treatable dog or cat is killed merely because he or she does not have a home.

Tara Derby, who in 2005 took the helm of Philadelphia's Animal Care and Control Association (PAACA), founded the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals two years ago to set Philadelphia on a course to achieve its no-kill mission. In an interview earlier this year, Derby said, "The heartbreaking problems caused by pet overpopulation in our city are very real, and when we fail to work together as a community, animals who might otherwise live long lives, bringing joy to people, will die. To impact the bottom line — to save lives — we must identify new ways to maximize results by combining community resources." Her leadership of the new PACCA administration has brought about record-setting save rates. Out of the Cage! is pleased to share a portion of a recent interview with Tara that describes some of the similarities and differences between the two Alliances and their communities.

What prompted you to get involved in and, ultimately, take a leading role in revolutionizing the animal care and control system in Philadelphia?

The reason I became involved in animal welfare is grounded in my love for animals. Cliché as it may sound, this is what prompted me to initially become involved, and the true cause for me pursuing a leadership role at the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA).

Starting off as a volunteer, I worked with various groups and shelters. I became involved in volunteer work with animals in 2002. In 2003, I attended a conference in which I had the opportunity to hear Jane Hoffman, President and Chair of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, speak of the great lifesaving initiatives that were being implemented in New York. Her approach, and the NYC Alliance's approach seemed so simple, so plausible, and yet so productive. The "magic" solution consisted of comprehensive adoption and spay/neuter programs, thereby placing healthy and treatable animals in loving homes and stemming the unwanted tide of kittens and puppies in the shelter system. Through collaboration, an aggressive program of transferring animals from animal control to adoption guarantee agencies was significantly alleviating pressure on animal control by helping to reduce unnecessary killing. The bottom line is that this multi-pronged approach helped to create buy-in from various community-based organizations, shelters, and philanthropists. This results-driven approach was saving lives, and for me, that is all that mattered.

Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals events have increased adoptions. (Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals)

Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals events have increased adoptions.

(Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals

Following the 2003 conference, Jane and I spoke a couple of times about Philadelphia, similarities and differences to New York City, and how Philadelphia's animals would benefit from an Alliance of its own. In meeting after meeting, here in Philadelphia, virtually everyone thought the New York City model made sense. So, in June 2004, the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals was formed, and in September 2004, the organization's mission was launched officially during a Town Hall Meeting. We literally hit the ground running — from June–September 2004, nearly 500 animals were transferred from animal control to adoption guarantee agencies that were members of the Alliance. In addition, several key rescue groups had joined the coalition, and all three shelters in the City were official Alliance Participating Organizations (APOs).

My shift from the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals, as President and Chair, to the CEO of PACCA, came as a direct result of my involvement in the Alliance, and witnessing firsthand the overwhelming problems that were occurring at animal control. In 2004, following a series of investigative articles in which PACCA was described as a "house of horrors," the City Council held public hearings to review the agency's operations. Many thought the agency would be shut down, in fact, many members of the public demanded that the City opt to take this action due to the deplorable conditions at the shelter. The City did not close the shelter, because it could not, nor did it want to. The City wanted to help fix and improve PACCA, and in February 2005, the City of Philadelphia and PACCA demonstrated their commitment to improving conditions at the municipally funded shelter by hiring No Kill Solutions to conduct an assessment of PACCA's operations, and to provide a No Kill Community Plan for all organizations and agencies dedicated to improving the plight of Philadelphia's animals.

As the assessment was being conducted, PACCA was simultaneously conducting its search for a new CEO. When the announcement was made and the search officially began, I never thought I would seriously apply for the job, although the thought did cross my mind. It wasn't until I really thought long and hard about the problems in Philadelphia, and where most of the problems were. The reality is that even if PACCA was a perfect shelter, it was a system that received nearly 30,000 animals annually. While my work at the Alliance was dear to my heart, I began to believe that the same bottom line approach would directly benefit the thousands of animals at animal control each year.

So, in April 2005, I began my tenure as PACCA's new CEO. Since that time, we have nearly tripled adoption and transfer rates, and we have increased the save rate by more than 30 percent. We still have a very long way to go, and we have to make these changes sustainable over the long haul. And, it really isn't the case that I've revolutionized animal control. None of the work that has been achieved at PACCA for Philadelphia's animals has occurred because of my works alone. All the great strides that have been made in lifesaving at PACCA during these last 16 months are a direct result of teamwork. The staff and administrative team are truly dedicated to saving lives, and to improving public health and safety for the citizens of our City. We are committed to being honest about everything that we do, even when the truth hurts or isn't so easily received. We have received a 25 percent increase in our funding from the City this year, and we are so honored to have the City's support as we forge ahead in the battle to save lives and protect the citizenry. Our partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), provide us with invaluable resources for the animals in our care and for our staff in terms of training and professional development. We continue to build and strengthen our relationships with other shelters such as the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey. They are our biggest transfer partners, and we are grateful to their commitment to the animals in our community. And, to every other shelter and rescue group, no matter how big or how small, we continue to work towards cultivating more of these important relationships as the old adage rings true — every little bit counts — for every little bit, is another life saved and not lost.

What would you say have been the most significant changes that have been implemented since you assumed the leadership of Philadelphia's animal control in April 2005?

There have been many significant changes made at PACCA since the current administration assumed leadership in April 2005. Perhaps most significant was our implementation of a 100 percent pre-release sterilization policy for adopted animals.

In addition to PACCA's new 100 percent pre-release sterilization policy, the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals' mobile spay/neuter clinics have also reduced pet overpopulation. In August 2006, Ontario, a calico kitty (shown above), was the 1000th animal to be sterilized through these Alliance spay/neuter clinics. (Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals)

In addition to PACCA's new 100 percent pre-release sterilization policy, the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals' mobile spay/neuter clinics have also reduced pet overpopulation. In August 2006, Ontario, a calico kitty (shown above), was the 1000th animal to be sterilized through these Alliance spay/neuter clinics.

(Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals

Previously, under the prior administration, nearly 95 percent of the animals adopted from PACCA were sent home without being sterilized. Even in shelters that use vouchers and have follow-up procedures to ensure compliance, there are animals that never return. For us, that was simply unacceptable. And unfortunately, PACCA was virtually devoid of a follow-up system for adoption. So in essence, most animals that left unaltered, never came back for sterilization. Thus, animal control was directly contributing to overpopulation of animals in Philadelphia, which was simply unacceptable.

We knew that due to a paucity of resources, we couldn't immediately go from spaying and neutering virtually no animals, to sterilizing every animal we adopted out, particularly when we were setting goals to increase live exits by tripling our adoption and transfer rates. At the same time, we knew we had to reach a day when we would achieve 100 percent pre-release sterilization for adopted animals, and we needed to get there quickly.

By December 2005, PACCA achieved a 100 percent pre-release sterilization policy for adopted animals. We did what some would say is impossible within an 8-month period. My response is that it is nowhere near impossible to achieve this goal. First, animal control shelters have to decide it is not only a worthy goal, but a goal that must be upheld as a mandatory best practice by all those involved in the animal care and animal sheltering community.

Getting there was not easy, but how we did it was — on my first day at work, we made a commitment to achieve 100 percent pre-release sterilization for adopted animals. Period. There was no discussion, no explanation, no justification as to why we wouldn't be able to achieve this goal. We simply had to do it and there was no other alternative if we were truly invested in saving lives.

Every decision made from then on — from the staff we hired, to the supplies we purchased — was couched within the context of the importance of our reaching this goal. Seeing pregnant cats returned to PACCA after being adopted, or killing entire litters of cats and kittens due to lack of space served as the perfect catalyst for us to keep our eyes on the prize.

Knowing we couldn't do it all at once, we had to find a starting place. Cats. Our first implementation step to achieve our goal was to sterilize all cats and kittens prior to adoption release. By hiring a staff veterinarian, we achieved this milestone by August 2005.

Our continuing strategy was to get the community to work with us in order to achieve 100 percent pre-release sterilization. We knew we couldn't do it on our own, at least not with our current funding situation. In meeting after meeting, and phone call after phone call, we engaged key community stakeholders. The state Veterinary Medical Association and the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine supported our call for help by promoting pro bono work for veterinarians. We worked diligently to build relationships with local veterinarians, and our consistency has paid off. Today, we have at least five days of surgery scheduled per week, and we are proud to be the implementation site for the University of Pennsylvania's Shelter Animal Medicine Program.

Other changes we have made include, but are not limited to: implementing 7-day-a-week adoption hours and extending hours to reach people who work; allowing owners to walk through and identify lost animals at any time of the day; and a comprehensive vaccination policy for all animals upon intake. And without a second thought, the other significant change has been our implementation of an open-door policy for all rescues and shelters who wish to transfer animals from our facility. We transfer out every animal we can, and we never hold an animal unless required to do so for court cases, or other legal reasons such as mandatory stray hold times. Our bottom line philosophy is to do everything we can to facilitate the live exit of every animal as efficiently and effectively as possible, in an effort to increase the number of animals leaving our agency alive and well.

Having gained a thorough understanding of the early development of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, how would you describe the similarities shared among it and the Philadelphia Alliance for Animals? What about the differences?

There are many similarities between the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals and the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals. First, both Alliances have a Memorandum of Understanding with City government that supports lifesaving activities. In addition, both Alliances have the participation of animal control, other adoption guarantee shelters, traditional shelters, and rescue groups. The Alliances share similar rules of conduct and participation, such as the "no trash talking" rule and dispute resolution procedures. We both have received support from the ASPCA, and PetSmart Charities, Inc.

I believe the major difference between the NYC and Philadelphia Alliance is the size of coalition and the differences in partnerships. The NYC Alliance is huge, and the Philadelphia Alliance is not. NYC has more than 90 groups, and we have just under 15. In addition, Philadelphia is unique in that we have one of the best veterinary schools in the nation based in our City in the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet). Penn Vet has been a committed partner in the Philadelphia No Kill initiative, specifically in its partnership with PACCA. Their contribution is unmatched, from the countless volunteers that come to us from their student body, to the incredible care they provide, when needed, for severely injured/sick animals.

What special challenges do you encounter, given your dual leadership roles — as director of Philadelphia's Animal Care & Control and founder and board member for the Philadelphia Alliance?

The most significant challenge I face in my dual role at PACCA and the Alliance is simply not having enough time to accomplish all that I would like to do. And when there is not enough time, the job at PACCA comes first. Leaving the Alliance, as President and Chair, meant I had to give up my role as the leader of that organization. While I am still a founder and board member, I am no longer President. That means someone else has to lead the way. That someone else has been Anne Trinkle. Holding the position as President and Chair of the Alliance for the last 16 months, Anne truly is an amazing colleague and committed friend to Philadelphia's animals. There are thousands of animals that have her to thank personally for getting a chance to leave our shelter alive.

The transition of me leaving the Alliance was never easy, and there are times when I want and wish I could be more involved in some of the day-to-day planning and implementation at the Alliance. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of work at PACCA often times does not provide me with this kind of opportunity as I must focus my attention on the animals at PACCA, and the staff that are working diligently to build this 24-hour, 7-day-per-week operation into an agency we can all be proud of. Proud because we are dedicated to protecting public health and safety, and saving the lives of homeless and unwanted animals. This is a huge task, and sometimes, it is difficult to switch from crisis-mode at PACCA, to Alliance initiatives. In the end, in many ways, they are often one in the same — through sharing a common vision of building a No Kill Philadelphia, the Alliance and PACCA are working hand-in-hand with our other APOs to increase lifesaving, each and every day.

What would you say are the three top reasons that Philadelphia will be successful in creating a no-kill community?

The top three reasons that Philadelphia will be successful in creating a no-kill community are:

1. Momentum

It is impossible to stop momentum once it starts, and in Philadelphia, it has begun and has taken full force. It is quite dynamic at the moment, with the movement ever changing, but change is good if it produces great results. When the results are saving the lives of thousands of cats and dogs, the momentum can be truly unstoppable. Momentum carries the story of animals to the media, and then to the public. This is how we get the public involved — when they know that there are animals in shelters that need their help. Momentum catches the eye of the local business owner who wants to support animals, or the politician who happens to be an animal lover and wants to lend her/his support to the cause, or even to the person who was just about to go to a pet store and buy a dog or cat, and has since changed their mind because they want to save a life. No matter who it attracts, sustained momentum is key to the success of any initiative or movement, and it is key to the success of a No Kill Philadelphia.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and PACCA have partnered to eliminate the unnecessary killing of potentially adoptable animals in the City of Philadelphia with the launch of the spay/neuter component of the School's new Shelter Animal Medicine Program. Pictured are Dr. Joan Hendricks (Penn Vet), Tara Derby (PACCA), and Ed Sayres (ASPCA). (Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine)

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and PACCA have partnered to eliminate the unnecessary killing of potentially adoptable animals in the City of Philadelphia with the launch of the spay/neuter component of the School's new Shelter Animal Medicine Program. Pictured are Dr. Joan Hendricks (Penn Vet), Tara Derby (PACCA), and Ed Sayres (ASPCA).

(Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

2. Visionary Leadership

From PACCA, to the Alliance, to Penn Vet, to the City, to our other shelter partners in the region — visionary leadership is changing the plight of the animals in our City. It is truly exciting to observe changes occurring throughout our community, not just at PACCA. It's as if saving lives has become infectious. And while there are still some that remain critical of the cutting edge practices that many of us who are dedicated to lifesaving take on a daily basis — what we know is that tradition, status quo, and "the way it is" doesn't always yield a positive result. What I believe is that for the animals in our care, when we don't produce positive results, we end up sending more animals to landfills than through our shelter doors alive. I am proud to say that there are many leaders in our City who believe this is simply unacceptable, and we must do everything within our power, each and every day, to save as many lives as possible.

3. Compassion

When it's all said and done, isn't it what this is all about? For most of us who have jobs in animal sheltering, did we not take these jobs because we care? For the hundreds and thousands of volunteers who come to shelters every day to show an animal that he or she is loved, is this not compassion in its purist manifestation? And for the people who come to adopt animals, most come because they care and they want to save a life. Compassion is the key, and in Philadelphia, we are returning the City and its system for caring for its unwanted and homeless animals into a compassion-based system.

To learn more about the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals, visit their website at www.AnimalAlliancePA.org.

 

About the Author

Susan Israel is a professional writer who has been published in numerous animal publications. "While waiting for my agent to sell my novel, I went to the dogs — literally!" she says. "I've had work published in Animal Wellness, Our Kids, The Pet Gazette (Fairfield/Westchester/L.I.), and Dog Fancy. Still waiting for that book to be published, though!"