City of Philadelphia Fails Windermere Tenants & Pets

by Lou on February 16, 2011

in News

NEVER AGAIN. Photo by West Philly Local

Here at City Kitties, we are shocked and saddened to witness the City of Philadelphia abandoning its residents and their pets in their time of need. Rather than advocating on behalf of the Windermere tenants and their beloved pets, city government has turned its back on our neighbors.

Over the past five weeks, the City and the Windermere owners passed the buck time and again, failing homeless tenants and their missing pets at every turn. As fire marshal personnel, inspectors, maintenance men, and insurance investigators entered the Windermere day after day, tenants anxious to recover cats and valuables were barred from entry. No City agency made any official announcement about the building or its contents, no one knew who controlled it at any given time, and even worse, no one seemed to care.

The chaos outside of the building yesterday afternoon only amplified the City’s massive failure. Despite media reports that the Windermere owners would work with tenants and the PSPCA to recover possessions and pets, Director of Law Enforcement George Bengal and a PSPCA humane officer were promptly denied entry without a warrant. Without another cat sighting in a window as evidence of neglected animals inside, there was no basis for obtaining another warrant, and thus the humane officers were legally unable to act. Some residents were able to retrieve trash bags full of belongings with the help of the demolition crew, but only after signing a waiver stating that those bags represented all of their salvageable belongings. This was far too little, too late.

City Kitties volunteers spoke directly to the Windermere owners, Sam and David Ginsberg. Everything they said directly contradicted media statements by L&I. The Ginsbergs said they care deeply about the animals inside, but that they have absolutely no authority to allow anyone inside the building — other than the demolition crew — and would risk arrest if they entered themselves. Like everything else surrounding the Windermere disaster, there was no way to separate fact from misunderstanding from outright lie.

Our efforts to get humane traps back inside the building will be over as of Friday morning, 2/18. By order of the City, demolition will start at that time and will be ongoing until mid-March. This morning, crews will begin to salvage what they can and then tear the Windermere down, piece by piece, with missing pets still inside. The owners and demolition crew assured us that they will open windows on the lower floors as they begin the process. One of the demolition crew members is a cat lover and promised to keep an eye out for any pets. The City, on the other hand, has not offered a scrap of support for animal rescue efforts or the devastated owners of these missing cats.

Today, we are disgusted and ashamed to see our city government at its worst. The City of Philadelphia has utterly failed its most vulnerable residents and animals. The Windermere was a 90-unit building housing 100 people. Imagine this failure on a city-wide scale in the wake of a major disaster. We will not stand by and allow this to happen again — we demand change. If you agree, here is what you can do:

1. Call or email Mayor Nutter’s office again. Calmly and politely tell them that you are shocked and disgusted by the City’s lack of response and concern. Tell them that the lack of animal rescue protocol is inexcusable, and and that this must never happen again in our city. We will not stand for this massive failure, and we demand that Mayor Nutter take a hard look at the emergency system currently in place for Philadelphians and their pets. Already called or emailed? Take a moment to think about the animals in that building as demolition begins, the people who weren’t able to salvage their most precious belongings — and call or email again:

215-686-2181
michael.nutter@phila.gov

2. Support the Windermere trapping project. There is always a little hope. Dedicated Project MEOW volunteers have begun setting traps in the area surrounding the building. Project MEOW will TNR any feral cats and release them in a safer area; City Kitties will place any friendly strays into foster care. You can help by donating food (canned or dry), old towels or blankets, and bleach (for cleaning traps) to Project MEOW. Email projectmeow@gmail.com or visit their facebook page for details.Become a City Kitties foster home so that we can help as many of these cats as possible. Please do NOT place cat food in the area around the building, as this will discourage cats from entering the traps.

3. Using the form at the bottom of this page, submit your name to be signed to a letter thanking George Bengal and his team of PSPCA humane officers. When we called George yesterday, he and an officer were on the scene right away. This is the kind of response that Windermere residents deserved from the City all along, and we should take the time to thank those individuals who actually worked on behalf of the tenants and their pets. City Kitties will be drafting this letter and submitting it to George and PSPCA CEO Sue Cosby in the coming week.

Just as the above story demonstrates Philadelphia at its worst, all of you demonstrate Philadelphia at its best. At the end of the day, nine animals have bright futures because of this effort: five cats were reunited with their owners, and two Windermere cats (Ash and Ember) and two friendly strays (Cinder and Cinnamon) will be placed in loving forever homes. Though it’s not the result we had all hoped for, it’s still a small victory. We want to thank everyone who has supported the Windermere rescue effort over the past month. We were overwhelmed by the support, information, advice, donations for rescued cats’ care, presence at protests, and generosity of the people around us. Special thanks to Project MEOW and Philadelphia Community Cats Council for loaning traps and expertise, and Enterprise CDC and Walnut Hill Community Association for helping us spread the word about the missing cats.

Sign the letter of thanks to PSPCA humane officers below. Your email address will not be added to any mailing lists. Even better, make a donation to the PSPCA and be sure it is earmarked for Humane Law Enforcement. The cruelty investigation team is funded 100% by donations, and we must continue supporting their critical work.

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