Practical > Companion Animals & Urban Wildlife > Companion Animals

Animal shelter learns new tricks
PSPCA strives to see that every dog (or cat) has its day
January 2, 2006
By Ivonne D'Amato

CENTRE HALL -- When Earl, a 5-year-old black Lab mix, came into the animal shelter in Centre Hall, he was emaciated, practically hairless, and sick with a highly infectious intestinal virus.

There was a time when Earl's condition and demand for space at the shelter, operated by the Central Counties branch of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, would have dictated the dog's fate.

"A few years ago, I would have had him 48 hours and I would have had to put him down," said John Matrisciano, shelter manager and an officer with the PSPCA.

But a volunteer saw potential in Earl. So, thanks to a new fostering program that began last year at the shelter, Earl was given a second chance. He was nursed back to health and is working as a service dog while awaiting adoption.

New initiatives intended to place more animals in permanent homes and reduce the number that must be euthanized have been in place at the shelter since May. One is the fostering program, in which volunteers take animals into their homes to care for them until permanent homes can be found for them.

The results of that program, which frees space at the shelter, have been good, "because a lot of the fosterers adopt the dogs," Matrisciano said.

An animal showcase every Sunday at the Tractor and Supply Co. store on the Benner Pike is another new effort, conducted in partnership with several animal rescue groups and other animal shelters in the area. At least two animals a week are adopted into permanent homes as a result of the program, said Joe Shoemaker, an SPCA volunteer and one of the event coordinators.

In April, a former volunteer began an online petition drive that called for Matrisciano to be removed as shelter manager. The volunteer cited a number of issues, such as the lack of an ongoing, organized volunteer program and a lack of rationale as to which animals would be euthanized.

The Centre Hall PSPCA is one of seven in the state administered by the private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Philadelphia. Officials of the parent organization investigated the complaints and found no violations at the shelter.

But Matrisciano admits the new programs are a "byproduct" of the allegations. "I'm taking a proactive approach to managing the animal shelter," he said.

The SPCA takes any animals that come to it. Often, that means euthanizing some animals to make room for others.

"I wish it (the euthanizing of animals) wasn't necessary," Matrisciano said. "But the population of animals in a shelter is a direct reflection of the communities responsibility towards pets."

Matrisciano also said the need for volunteers is constant, and at each event information on volunteering for the shelter is passed out.

"Volunteers are the type of thing you can't have enough of," he said.

In 2004, the shelter had a 65 percent euthanasia rate, comparable to most other PSPCA shelters, according to figures previously provided by state SPCA officials.

According to Matrisciano, between January 2005 and November the shelter received more than 2,000 animals. Of those, 937, or 45 percent, were euthanized. Another 983 animals were placed in permanent homes, 61 were transferred to "other branches or to rescues or to other humane organizations," and 61 animals were returned to their original owners.

Although there is no "formula" to decided when an animal has to be euthanized, Matrisciano said, their quality of life has to be considered when the animal remains in the shelter for a long period of time.

The shelter operates on a shoestring budget. As of November, it had an income of $59,493 from donations and $20 it receives from the state for every stray dog brought to the shelter. Its expenses totaled $176,206, Matrisciano said. The deficit is covered by the state organization with money from an endowment.

"This is not a money-making organization," Matrisciano said.

Currently, the shelter has 53 dogs, 12 cats and several parakeets that are awaiting a home. It has room for 100 animals, Matrisciano said, but because

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