510 Sebastian Derenoncourt


In 2010, my partner Sari and I moved to Philadelphia after years of living in NYC. I’m a NYker and she’s originally from the Philadelphia area.

After moving to the Kensington area of north Philly, we immediately noticed the pervasive presence of stray cats and as we started exploring Philadelphia, we also ended up seeing and rescuing a number of stray dogs.

As we couldn’t donate much money, every time we brought in a dog, we ended up volunteering at the ACCT Philly (Animal Care & Control Team) and in the process of working there we got a good idea of the scale of the Philly animal welfare tragedy.

Fast forward a few years and a friend we had made at ACCT called us to see if we could foster a pitbull-mix puppy who was about to be sent to the ACCT shelter from a family who was overwhelmed by her needs.

Our friend who had been a shelter volunteer for quite a long time was trying to bypass the shelter as the puppy was quite young, and was hoping to find a foster family to take her in. The shelter, despite the best efforts of its team, is a very stressful environment for all the animals in its care for a number of reasons, and tends to affect the dogs quality of life significantly. As I was hesitant to take on any new projects, Sari convinced me to just go and look at the puppy—she knew my weak spots—and as soon as we saw her, I agreed to take her home.

We couldn’t really have a dog long-term, for a number of practical reasons, so we agreed to keep her and train her until we found suitable forever parents. (The most important reason: our queen feline Ku, who is not willing to share the house with any other creatures that are not adult humans—she does not like kids either.)

Getting home, we found out very quickly that six-week-old Dasha was a spazzy good-natured bruiser who didn’t bark, was always smiling and had no sense of pain.

She grew at an astonishing rate, she learned her commands quickly, she didn’t bark, had a minimal chewing issues, and was really really fun, albeit quite energetic, as all puppies are. With all the good though, she also had some health issues and the vet bills were pretty serious.  Finding her allergic to most normal dog food, the prescription diet was also quite costly, but she was such a treasure that we doggedly kept training her and getting her acquainted with the world, which was a lot of fun. From her first time seeing snow and playing in snow, to going to Wissahickon park (which made her very confused with all its mysterious trees and leaves and long moving shadows, all of which were firsts for this inner city pup) to her daily zoomies (wild uncontrolled dashing around the house that started and ended abruptly before she would pass out in her crate) she has been a constant source of laughter.

Between her 9th and 12th week she started losing her baby teeth, which I kept finding stuck in the most hilarious places, whether stuck on her chew toys and fetch balls, or in the seams of the couch & in random corners of the house.

The ones here are some of the teeth I found while cleaning the house, after she was adopted. They are a memento of how much love and care we shared with this pup, but also how much work there is to do to curtail the endemic issues that prevail in animal welfare & regulations of the city of Philadelphia.

With Dasha we might have prevented one puppy from being traumatized by the shelter system, but she is but a tiny particle in a deluge of abandoned/under cared/mistreated pets, this society produces yearly.

Every year Philadelphia euthanizes between seven and fifteen thousand dogs.

The numbers have been decreasing, but these numbers are not counting all the dogs languishing in shelters, or the dogs who are neglected, cold and malnourished in a plethora of derelict conditions; as well as all the dogs who are actively mistreated and abused in a number of environments.

There is a serious unaddressed need for regulation to seriously limit the purchase of puppies from pet stores and individuals in the city—a need for legislation to completely curtail the breeding of all dog types and laws to force the licensing and sterilization of all pets living in Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s government and constituents have paid very little attention to these issues as they have been hidden in the dark corners of the city for someone else to deal with. Money of course is always what is missing for such “sideline” issues in a city’s budget, but in this case, a bit of attention and new ideas would go a long way to address the overwhelming nature of the problem in Philadelphia. In a way the nature and scope of this problem is a reflection of the people who live here and the nature & scope of Philly’s socio-economic issues, and as the city changes hopefully these concerns will be pushed up to the front of the discussion on the city’s renewal.

It ended up taking more than six months for us to find her the perfect parents, after a lot of meetings, play dates and the vetting of potential adopters. In that time we funded all of the costs ourselves and it was an eye-opening experience when multiplying these expenses to all of the pets sitting in shelters around the city.

Dasha’s new parents have been great at updating us of her progress and through Instagram, have kept a great log of her daily life and her of her travels in the world. (#Dashabutt) It has been really amazing to see how happy they and Dasha have been together, and how she was able to find her place as an elegant pup in Philly.

Hopefully many more neglected & abandoned pets can find a place like hers.

Sari and I learned and grew so much from this experience which is now engraved in us as one of our dearest Philadelphia experiences.

Thank you!

Sebastien Derenoncourt

PS: please adopt shelter pets and avoid Breeders & Pet Stores!!!