Chesco SPCA says changes saving animal lives

Less animals being surrendered, more adoptions

PuppyKittenWEST CHESTER  — The Chester County SPCA (CCSPCA) has announced that the shelter achieved a 90% live release rate during the month of November.  This is a particularly notable achievement because the CCSPCA is the only open admissions shelter for both Chester and Delaware Counties.

This high live release rate is attributable to significant changes implemented by the new Executive Director, Adam Lamb, since his arrival in September.  Through a number of initiatives, Lamb has focused on strategically reducing the number of animals entering the shelter unnecessarily.

First, the CCSPCA employs Safety Net Retention Programs which provide alternatives to pet owners who come to the shelter to surrender their animals.  In a new Admissions entrance to the facility, trained staff members counsel pet owners interested in potentially surrendering their animals.  As an alternative to surrender, the counselors provide the pet owner with tangible solutions to and assistance with the issues that brought them to the shelter.

“The Admissions staff is advocating for the pets while providing counseling and education to the owners. They are social workers for the animals in our community,” said Lamb.

Often, the CCSPCA can offer resources and assistance to help keep the pet in the home.  The shelter recently received grants from both the ASPCA and Banfield Charitable Trust to establish a Pet Food Pantry to provide free food assistance to pet owners living under the poverty level.

According to Lamb, “Difficulty paying for food should not be a reason for owners to surrender their pet to the shelter.”  The CCSPCA’s Pet Food Panty will ensure that all members of the community have access to the food they need to keep their families together.

At the same time, while surrenders have decreased, the number of adoptions has increased since the shelter’s adoption policy was improved to alleviate some of the some of the stringent and meaningless restrictions potential adopters used to face.  Last month, 273 animals were adopted, compared to the 155 adoptions during November 2013.

Another initiative is the Animal Health Center, which officially opened to the public on October 21st of this year, in conjunction with the shelter’s Muhly Clinic.  The Animal Health Center provides high-quality and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines, and other wellness services to owned pets in the community.  Offering affordable veterinary care helps promote responsible pet ownership by making these basic wellness services accessible to more people.

“I’m thrilled that we can provide an alternative to surrender or even abandonment when medical bills surpass what people can afford,” said Medical Director Michelle Mehalick, DVM.

The CCSPCA’s Community Cat program also offers the public an opportunity to have outdoor cats living within their community spayed or neutered.  These cats are examined by the CCSPCA’s veterinarian, then sterilized, vaccinated, and ear-tipped to indicate their altered state.  This program assists in managing uncontrolled pet populations via sterilization, and therefore limits the number of kittens brought to the shelter during “kitten season.”

With the recent establishment of the Open Paw program, the shelter has made a few minor changes to daily operations with the goal of improving the lives of the animals on a much larger scale, thereby making them less prone to undesirable behavioral traits and thus more adoptable.  For example, the dogs eat a portion of their daily food rations via Kongs, providing much needed stimulation and enrichment during their time in the shelter.  The remaining food ration is hand-fed from the public, increasing the formation of positive associations with visitors.  Hand-feeding also reduces stress-related behaviors, such as growling.

“The goal of the Open Paw program is to decrease stress and increase the adoptability of our animals so that they find a home more quickly and stay in the home once there,” said Lamb.

Another aspect of the Open Paw program involves educating potential adopters about animal behavior and providing hands-on training for shelter staff and volunteers.  The shelter’s Behavior Team offers weekly training sessions for the volunteers to maximize their efforts.

“The staff and volunteers have been working together to get these new programs up and running and the results of this teamwork have been truly remarkable,” said Lamb.

Behavior modification techniques are used to help the animals become calmer and more approachable while in their kennels, increasing the likelihood of adoption while also better preparing the animals to adjust to their new forever homes.

Vital statistics will inevitably vary by month, depending on animal intake, but the shelter is confident that the numbers will remain high moving forward.

“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made in such a short period of time and it shows that the new programs we’ve put in place are working,” said Lamb. CCSPCA has started posting their monthly statistics on their website and will continue to do so in the future.  To follow the shelter’s progress, please visit

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