Providence Animal Center strives to protect, not kill, animals in its care

By Alex Ing

Providence Animal Center, formerly the Delaware County SPCA, is Media’s primary animal shelter and one of the better-known facilities of its kind in Pennsylvania.

The shelter withdrew from its contract with the county in 2012 and officially changed its name in 2016 after deciding to move away from becoming a kill shelter to a no-kill [shelter] sometime in May, 2010.

Justina Calgiano, 35, PAC’s director of Advancement & Public Relations, explained the process.

“We needed to become a life-saving organization,” Calgiano said. “And by having those contracts [with the county], and allowing a host of animals to flow into our shelter on any given weekend, we no longer had control of our space or resources. It meant that we were just euthanizing en masse. So we now have what’s called a limited intake facility instead of an open access facility, which is what we were before. We make appointments for people who need to surrender their animals.”

Recently Calgiano talked with me about Providence Animal Center’s transformation over the past few years, as well as the hopes and ambitions of the shelter, the team, and their mission statement.

Tell me more about the Providence Animal Center.

We’re operating at about a 98% save rate, which is pretty phenomenal for a life-saving organization. This means that only 2% of the animals in our care have had to be euthanized, because they were behaviorally aggressive beyond our resources and beyond the resources we reached out to.

We have had hospice cases, many of them, where we will place deathly ill animals into homes if they are living a comfortable life and can be treated with medication.

So what determines whether an animal is too behaviorally aggressive to be adopted?

That’s determined by our team of behavioral K-9 care experts. If the animal has severe prey drives and will go after another dog, another cat, or a child, and we’ve maybe had an incident where it did that on our campus, that’s something that we’ll have to look at.

This might happen just once or in an adoptive home, and then we’ll reevaluate and put the animal into a different circumstance, maybe a foster home, or maybe taken out of the kennels and put in a private room.

We’re not going to [release] an animal that could want to go after another animal while it’s walking on the street.

We do have dogs in homes that aren’t “dog-friendly,” but it’s not to the point of “they want to kill that animal.”

You’re a nonprofit organization, so you’re supported by a lot of private donors and community partners. How did funding change as a result of the rebranding?

After we became a no-kill facility, we did see an uptick in donations. A big reason why we made the change to become a life-saving organization is because we sent out a poll for donors, and we essentially asked them how’d they like to see their money spent.

When we changed the name to Providence Animal Center, I would say that it was probably 95% good feedback [from] the community. Some people wanted us to stay the same place we always were, which was kind of like the pound. It was the place you went to dump your animals, and you left your responsibilities there and you didn’t look back. And that’s not what we wanted to be anymore.

You’re currently building a new series of kennels to replace the old ones from the 1930’s. What kind of changes can we expect to see from those facilities?

The goal of the kennels is to help the dogs show better. It’s really all about people coming in and having a good first interaction. If they see a dog that’s barking and kind of freaking out, they pass [it] by.

Of course, being in a shelter for an animal is overwhelming, so that behavior is understandable.

But your average family, they just want a calm dog that doesn’t seem like it’s going to bark or bite them. It’s about accommodating [the dogs] and making them comfortable so that they’re more presentable…because we want to be able to showcase them.

The new kennels will hold the same number of cages, but there’ll be two or three indoor meet-and-greet areas where dogs can actually play and socialize. The kennels will have heated floors, which is an exciting upgrade [against] chilly winters.

We’ll have a separate area for our humane cases that’s a little [quieter] and more soothing, because a lot of them have been living on a chain or in a backyard, and it’s really heartbreaking to see them not adjusting.

Your mission statement mentions a “special loyalty to bully breeds.” Could you elaborate on what that means?

Up until last year we made a strategic decision to call our dogs “mixed breeds,” knowing full well that some of the dogs that come in have that “bully breed” look. You know, the American bulldog, the pit bull…

Having that statement on our website helps people understand that we’re committed to all types of animals. It’s our way of saying “Hey, we’re life-saving, we’re not cherry-picking.”

Any upcoming fundraising or community outreach events that you’d like to talk about?

The biggest one that we have is probably “Bark in the Park,” which is Oct. 27. That’s an event that used to just be a dog walk, and we transformed it into a 5k. It’s one of the only dog-friendly 5k’s in the area. It’s at Rose Tree Park, and it’s usually the last weekend of October every year.

We have a big, big effort to get people to sign up to walk and run, and then after the event there’s a fall festival with local business vendors, dog contests, food trucks.

[There’s] something for everybody, and we usually see four to five thousand people come throughout the day.

But then we have Happy Hours, Cat Cacti events, and Yoga with Dogs, and a lot of other fun community events that we do in the meantime.

You said, “Yoga with Dogs?”

[Laughs] Yeah, you know, we want to keep the community engaged in what we’re doing. Give them the opportunity to have fun, but support the mission as well.

Contact Alex Ing at communitarian@dccc.edu