By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views
I accompanied a volunteer who went to Animal Care & Control’s (AC&C) Manhattan shelter to rescue Buddy. Buddy, a one-and-a-half-year old Rottweiler mix, came bounding out of the shelter with a slight upper respiratory infection. He was on the kill list, and if John and his rescue group did not intervene, Buddy would be dead.
Buddy had no business being on the kill list. He had a treatable condition, and was happy to greet us and go for a walk. John was going to take Buddy to a veterinarian to be evaluated before he would put him up for adoption through the rescue.
The next stop was to rescue 20 cats from the Brooklyn AC&C. Here a few FeLV cats were put in the same carrier as healthy cats. FeLV is Feline leukemia virus that is easily transmitted from cat to cat via saliva or nasal secretions. If it isn’t treated, it can be lethal. John (I am only using his first name because I don’t want him to be banned from rescuing cats and dogs from AC&C) told me that cats aren’t tested for FeLV until just before they leave the shelter. He said, “Now if all cages are properly sanitized daily and before each new occupant and everyone always washes up between handling every cat, I suppose that would be okay. But they don’t and it isn’t okay.”
Many AC&C volunteers have complained to management about unsanitary conditions, healthy animals getting sick because they are kept in close quarters with sick animals, and unresponsiveness to their suggestions on hosting fundraisers and promoting animal adoptions. One volunteer with a background in public relations and marketing was told that her services were not needed and that she should just continue walking dogs. AC&C has a massive undertaking. They operate the animal shelter system for all of New York City. Julie Bank, AC&C’s executive director, estimates that there are about 500 animals at each of its facilities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The Bronx and Queens just handle intake. When an animal is relinquished in the Bronx or Queens it is transferred to one of AC&C’s full service shelters. Ms. Bank says there are many disgruntled volunteers.
I’ve heard this before from other animal shelter directors—that volunteers think they know how to run shelters when they don’t. So, they are either not listened to, are asked to stop making suggestions, and if they persist, are banned from the shelters. Are these caring volunteers or trouble makers? I spoke with Mike Arms, former director of North Shore Animal League and president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center (HWAC) in CA. Back in 2001, he turned down the job of executive director at AC&C. He is aware of the problems that exist today, and said that HWAC depends on its volunteers.
“We count on our volunteers,” he says, “treat them with the utmost respect, and always listen to their suggestions.” One such HWAC volunteer, who also gives her time delivering Meals on Wheels, noticed that many of the clients with pets often shared their food, which meant that they were not getting a full meal and that their pets where not getting the essential nutrition they need. “She suggested we start a program that provides food to homebound pet owners who are part of the Meals on Wheels program,” says Mr. Arms. “That is how our AniMeals program got started.”
Many volunteers at AC&C have tried suggesting similar programs. Those who try to implement change, get blacklisted. Some leave and volunteer at other shelters; others keep quiet and stay. They remain because they have formed attachments to the cats and dogs.
The reason for this post is that I do listen to Pet News and Views’ readers. I hear great stories from happy volunteers at a number of shelters around the country. I also hear from a number of volunteers who are miserable because the shelters they volunteer at are poorly mismanaged, and when they speak up they are asked to leave. I would appreciate your comments on how you are implementing change at your local animal shelter.