I found out the evening before last from a mutual friend, that Tom Hickey had died. Knowing him a little bit for eight years was a good thing. He was kind and loved animals. Now he and PSPCA’s George Bengal are fighting the good fight from heaven. Homeless pets have another guardian angel watching over them.
But darn it, I am sad.
I liked Tom a lot and before his first stroke we would speak every now and then. My cell phone would ring and I would get “Hey it’s Tom. Got a minute?” and then he would launch into whatever he was thinking. Or he would text me similarly and ask me to call.
I first met Tom on August 21, 2008. I met him through Bill Smith at Main Line Animal Rescue. It was when Bryan Lentz and others were presenting the PA Dog Law Puppy Mill stuff in Radnor Township. Tom Hickey was with the PA Dog law Advisory Board,and at the time Jessie Smith was with Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement.
From then on, I would keep in touch with him. He was funny, nice, an animal lover, and adored his family.
He could get controversial and would go to the mat for homeless pets. Animal Rescue is a tough business and he was one of the ones who gave it their all.
If you did not know him or knew that happened, you would never know he was the quiet force behind that. But he was.
In 2013 when Chester County was gripped with the horror of two family dogs being shot in West Vincent, in what became the movement called Justice for Argus and Fiona, Tom stepped up and rolled up his sleeves, and was a big part of justice actually happening in that situation. I was also as my readers know part of getting justice for the family in that case, and it was a pleasure to work with him on that. He was always positive and encouraging and said the right thing would happen, and it did.
He was also a former member of the board of the Chester County SPCA now known as the Brandywine Valley SPCA, and always, always was a champion of homeless pets. Tom was a board member during tumultuous times at the Brandywine Valley SPCA, but he should be remembered there for his contributions. He was passionate, and incredibly dedidicated. He was also just one heck of a good guy.
Tom was one of a kind. I enjoyed knowing him even a little bit for a few years. To his family I send prayers and hugs and condolences. He was one of a kind and a lot of use will miss him, but I know how much you loved him, and he you.
Good-bye Tom. You were way too young to go. Sigh. Now you and Sharon are together again.
In the end, it’s still that amazing love story between he and his wife. Good-bye Tom.
This is how Tom should be remembered- with his dogs. Hickey family photo
I received word a little while ago through my Shipley network. Young Austin Wylie is gone. Reports indicate suicide. This teenager is a perfect stranger to me, my only sense of connection is my alma mater Shipley, and I have to tell you I find the news devastating. I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around the photographs of a seemingly happy and well-adjusted teenager, and this news.
We have a teen close enough in age to this boy, so it hits home on that level too. My better half’s mother was on the Board of Trustees like Austin’s mom when we were in high school . (My sweet man’s mother is one of the reasons boys were allowed to go to Shipley all those years ago, truthfully.) We were speaking about this today, I called him at his office to tell him the news from Shipley wasn’t good.
One of the things we spoke of is how I don’t remember kids being under pressure like this when we were at Shipley. And that at the Shipley of today this was the second teenage boy from there in a little over a year to chose to end his life. I am referring to Cayman Naib.
Before all you haters pop up and criticize me for thinking about this, be honest, am I the only one? This is not a dig at my alma mater Shipley at all, they are just as devastated and this came way the hell out of left field at school officials as well. I am speaking of the pressure teenagers, and seemingly boys in particular are under to succeed.
This was not a boy anyone would have pegged for this action. But Austin Wylie as per Shipley, his family, and the authorities ended his life by jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge. He left a note on his phone apparently, and was feeling overwhelmed by something at that time. I don’t understand how no one saw him climbing up on the bridge, but that is one of the things about cities and life: we are all so busy going about our days we often do not notice what happens around us.
This is a very nice letter. I am sharing in my own post because I am a little offended by the Patch and their zeal to spread devastating news like spam. They hit a power share button and just blasted the news across their sites in my opinion. Maybe if they did actual reporting they might have content for all their hyper local sites. But I digress.
Yesterday Shipley had put the following out:
I have to be honest as the hours dragged on yesterday and people in the media I knew kept commenting how they were being shuttled back and forth between the police departments involved trying to figure out what was going on that the news was NOT going to be good. It was just a feeling, and now as I write this post I wish the outcome had been different.
What happened to Austin that made him drop everything else he was doing and go do this in the middle of the day like this?
A friend of mine just made the following comment:
Another suicide. Another young person with their whole life ahead of them. I can’t think about it without crying. But what can we do…to lessen the pressure our children feel – whatever happened to the carefree days of high school? – and what can we do to recognize and support those in need of mental health support. I can’t help but feel like we are failing today’s children.
Another friend then said:
This is horrible. We all need to stop the high expectations, pressure cooker, mentality at school and home. Isn’t great teaching and great learning enough? Manage the expectations and egos.
I agree. And I think this goes especially for boys. Boys internalize so much. We don’t even realize it. Girls seem to let emotions out more. And they will talk about stuff more. When you ask a teenage boy how their day was, the response is monosyllabic. I know first hand and it drives me crazy. Ask girls the same question and you will not only get more of a response, you will get the added color of who annoyed them at lunch or what someone was wearing.
However, male or female, we do need to regulate the pressure cooker called life. As kids climb the grades in high school the expectations grow. The expectations grow from their schools, from us as parents, and the pressure these kids put on themselves so they don’t disappoint anyone.
Another friend of mine said :
It‘s not just Shipley though. It’s an epidemic. The pressure and expectations how early it starts is terrible. And the way today’s teenagers believe their lifetime happiness and success are somehow related to test scores or number of AP classes or grades is heart breaking. In addition we need them, everyone, to be unafraid to ask for help and to not be embarrassed to address and acknowledge their struggles.
It’s a topic that is hard to discuss. It’s not something that teens or adults want to think about. It’s unpleasant and difficult. But it does happen. Teen suicide is very real, and is preventable.
Good mental health is fundamental to the health and well-being of every person and of the nation as a whole. Our children are our future, so we need to help them know they are not alone and there are resources at their and their parents disposal.
Being a teenager is not easy. It is quite literally the best of times and the worst of times. As adults, we need to think back into the deep, dark recesses of our minds and remember what it was like to be a teenager. The hormones, confusing and often conflicting (let alone ever-changing) emotions, peer and parental pressure. Add to that today the issues of multi-platform bullying and social media overload.
Teen suicide is part of a larger public health issue. Coverage of this topic and discussion needs to encourage help-seeking. And we all have to remember suicide is a very complex issue. It can’t be pigeon holed into a little box and that’s it. There are multiple causes. And the signs of suicide vary.
According to the website Reporting On Suicide, the signs can include (but not all individuals display signs):
talking about wanting to die
looking for a way to kill oneself
talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
sleeping too little or too much
withdrawing or feeling isolated
showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
displaying extreme mood swings
Parents need to be honest and admit at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes. And according to a study produced during the Clinton White House Years , teenagers aged 15-16 who do not feel close to their parents are about three times as likely to think about suicide as teens who are close to their parents, and teens aged 15-16 who don’t eat dinner with their parents regularly are twice as likely to have attempted suicide. This talking point about dining as a family is also just good common sense.
Togetherness as a family that is positive opens many doors, and face it, what is one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers? Communication. And communication isn’t social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mails, chat programs, it’s a real conversation. Sitting down and talking even if it is light dinner conversation. Real and tangible contact and human interaction is so important with regard to interpersonal relationships at any age.
Teen suicide is very preventable, but as a society we have to open the doors to productive conversations and communication. Proper education on the topic is one of the keys to prevention. This needs to be discussed in the schools, the community at large, and the home.
Again, communication is key. When life gets bumpy or stressful it is helpful to know there are resources and people to talk to. Some teens in crisis will not display any telltale signs of issues, so it is really important to be able to talk with your children and they with you. And it is important for them to know from us that we do not need them to be perfect, and for some parents, especially if they are personally ambitious that is often hard to convey.
I am not laying blame here, I am devastated for the Wylie family. I look at photos of a boy that will be forever frozen in time, never aging. That makes tears run down my face. I also hope parents who were friends with, neighbors of, and went to school with Austin hit the pause button and help their children grieve and work through this. We can’t pretend these things aren’t happening, they are happening right in our own communities and across the country.
The Shipley School in Lower Merion announced Friday that a student who was reported missing earlier in the week had likely taken his own life.
“Although everyone was praying for a good outcome, I do not have good news,” Head of School Stephen Piltch wrote in a letter posted to the school’s website Friday.
Austin Wylie, 17, was entering his senior year. He was described as a talented player on the school’s soccer team and the club team FC Europa.
On Thursday, Philadelphia marine units were searching the Delaware River near where Wylie’s car had been found, according to police sources. A body was found Friday morning, but officials have yet to positively identify it.
Please talk with your kids about teen suicide. We need to take the top of the pressure cooker.
Austin Wylie, I never knew you, but I won’t soon forget you. I hope you are at peace, and I pray for his family and friends to find peace at this most difficult time. Remember the good times you had with this by all accounts remarkable young man. Hold him in your hearts with love.
My deepest condolences to Brooksley and Jim Wylie and Austin’s brother Cameron.
I close with one of my favorite Robert Frost poem I shared a year ago:
Out through the fields and the woods And over the walls I have wended; I have climbed the hills of view And looked at the world and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground, Save those that the oak is keeping To ravel them one by one And let them go scraping and creeping Out over the crusted snow, When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still, No longer blown hither and thither; The last lone aster is gone; The flowers of the witch-hazel wither; The heart is still aching to seek, But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season?
And when I was talking about the Chester County SPCA not sending anyone to the Argus and Fiona case in court the past two days (my personal opinion is they are afraid they will be questioned by reporters), this woman named Kris Keffer from York of all places rolled up on this blog in a comment and says how I am unprofessional and have a vendetta against the Chester County SPCA. Apparently she has lots to do with the Chester County SPCA.
I don’t know how she would judge from professional, her opinions on my blogging talents are par for the course when people disagree with my perspective, but I am not going to have someone tell me I have a vendetta against the Chester County SPCA. One of my best dogs ever came from the Chester County SPCA.
I am appalled and disturbed and quite frankly upset at all the bad things that keep getting unearthed about an organization I never, ever thought would have these issues. But they do.
My opinion (if you care) is there is a top down rottenness going on that would be solved by booting the president of the board and the board members he controls, getting the staff hired that they need, and getting back the good volunteers who felt they had to leave.
I also feel if the supporters of the SPCA don’t get a grip and deal with these issues a beloved institution may eventually cease to exist and how will that serve homeless pets and the community? Deal with the issues, quit saying they don’t exist. If they didn’t exist there would be nothing for the media to report on!
I am not out there personally destroying the Chester County SPCA but even I have heard things the past year that were most distressing. And that freaks me out because you can’t help but worry what would they do if they picked up your pet given what is going on?
And the part-time veterinarian stuff leaves me distinctly uncomfortable. Chester County is literally blessed with some of the best veterinarians in the country. Maybe if the SPCA was run a little differently they could attract some of these vets?
Mari Schaeffer is a very fine reporter and an outstanding human being. She is doing her job reporting the news. It’s a damn shame no one at the Chester County SPCA can apparently do theirs right now. This article is profoundly disturbing. And it is just not possible that all of this is just “made up”.
Any board member that won’t step up, should step off the board. And that includes Conrad Muhly.
Here is Mari’s article (please go to Philly.com and read whole thing – there are also photos):
Current and former staff and volunteers and a board member at the Chester County SPCA said recently that they had reported mistreatment and neglect of animals to shelter officials, but that their accounts were ignored or not addressed seriously.
Conrad Muhly, the board president, and other board members declined requests for comment on the allegations.
The shelter has defended its performance. “Our staff and volunteers will continue to devote all our efforts to the compassionate care of the animals in our open-access shelter, where no animal in need is turned away,” SPCA spokesman Richard Britton wrote in an e-mailed statement…..In June, Mona, a bulldog mix prone to painful ear infections that became worse while at the shelter, was euthanized after she tired to bite a staff member, said Leslie Celia, a former volunteer.
Last year, a pit bull puppy was found to be sick, and a “huge amount of blood” was seen in her wire cage. The staff, concerned the dog had parvovirus, recommended the dog receive outside care and be monitored overnight. The memo was unclear as to whether the dog received veterinary care on the night in question.
“The dog was left at the shelter alone and died that night,” a letter from staff members to the board said.
Petey, a shelter ambassador with the “Dogs on Tour” program, became sick with worms and was isolated in a feces-infested quarantine room for more than three weeks. With little human interaction, he was labeled aggressive and euthanized, volunteer Kenneth Schmidt wrote in a letter to the board last year.
Two years after the Chester County SPCA turned down an offer to sell 20 acres of the nonprofit’s land to West Bradford Township for a public park, the shelter’s board has agreed to sell the land to a real estate partnership in which board president Conrad Muhly is a principal….
Muhly is a principal member in Embreeville Redevelopment, a limited partnership that has an agreement of sale to purchase the CCSPCA’s unused acreage at West Strasburg Road and Shagbark Drive.
The land abuts the 245-acre Embreeville State Hospital parcel that the partnership purchased from the state for $1.05 million in the spring for potential development.
Muhly declined requests for interviews but did address questions in an e-mail….
Asked why the offer was declined, Muhly said in an e-mail: “There was no official offer to purchase the property.”
As for the vote this year on the sale of the 20 acres to his partnership, Muhly stated he had recused himself.
In an e-mail obtained by The Inquirer, board treasurer Frank Sobyak told board members that the sale to the partnership “will net the shelter $300,000 for land we no longer have use for.”…. When it deeded the 20 acres to the CCSPCA in 2002, the state stipulated that it be used for “programs and services associated with the prevention of cruelty to animals” in accordance with state law.
Many thanks to reporters like Mari Schaefer who continue to follow this story. Conrad Muhly should step down immediately. Is it just me or is his involvement in this whole land thing a conflict of interest as a CCSPCA Board Member, let alone President of said board? As a matter of fact he and any board member that are truly interested in the best interests of a non-profit shelter with a venerable history, should step aside and allow fresh faces and fresh perspectives to step in. And where is Jim Jones the Controller of the CCSPCA in all this? Some say he should be spoken to?
Mr. Muhly was undoubtedly chosen for his board role at CCSPCA because I imagine he is a wealthy man. When you look him up on PA’s publicly searchable corporation data base you come up with what I assume are familial construction entities and then an internet search shows something called “Terra”. Don’t know much about it, found it on his LinkedIn profile.
Now this whole issue in West Bradford stems around this Embreeville Redevelopment, and here is their page off the searchable corporations database:
For decades, the hundreds of acres of land that stretch between the villages of Embreeville and Romansville in West Bradford served the needs of Chester County citizens, as the location of a poorhouse, a state hospital for the developmentally disabled, and as the spot of a state police barracks.
Since the late 1980s, it has been less and less of a vibrant place, and now stands as a forlorn reminder of past uses…..the idea that the land would be the perfect place for a housing project with more than 1,000 units would be a call for a disaster.
Anyway, back to the dogs. Seems to me that the shelter dogs and animals are not thought of in this land equation much are they? Ironically the Treasurer of the CCSPCA mentioned in the Inquirer article and who also did not return calls was honored by the CCSPCA in June as Volunteer of the Year (see the pretty picture below?) as per the Unionville Times:
Here is hoping the Chester County SPCA can jettison all this trouble and get back to what they are about: the rescue and re-homing of neglected, abandoned animals. This controversy in my opinion only continues to tarnish their reputation and eventually will make people want their non-profit status evaluated for any number of reasons. And that, ladies and gentlemen, cats and dogs would be a horrible thing to have happen.
And a note to those like “birdiegirl” who like to roam around flapping their keyboards in quasi anonymous glory on websites covering this, sunshine is a bitch when it happens which is why no one can ever hide this stuff forever. Please stop running around crying fowl and actually put your energy to better use by telling the CCPSCA to get it together. They caused this, not anyone else. And if they did their recent inspection truly and honestly, I am glad they passed.