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Helter Skelter Animal Control

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Thanks to so many of you who wrote to let me know about the goings on at Animal Care & Control of New York City. When I wrote the post about Hill’s donating 2,000 bowls of food to AC&C, I had heard a few rumors about the problems at AC&C. I thought I would run the post anyway, because all cats and dogs—even ones at high kill shelters—have to eat.

What I didn’t know was the extent of the mess at AC&C. Since I heard from so many of you, I did some digging. I interviewed AC&C volunteers, people at the Mayor’s Alliance for Animals, AC&C executive director Julie Bank, a number of rescue workers, animal welfare workers, reporters who have covered AC&C, and I tried to interview city council members. I spent a lot of time researching, and learning about the history and multitude of problems at AC&C.

You all were right, and I know that you and I wish that weren’t the case for the sake of the cats and dogs at AC&C.

I was going to write an investigative story for my blog, but wanted to reach out to a larger circulation publication. I spoke to a few newspaper and magazine editors. Many sent me the same response: “Yeah I know it’s so important–but telling this story has been a tough sell over the years. Editors, especially at tabloids, don’t tend to like large policy-oriented stories. I usually cover it incrementally–writing a story when something happens, a budget cut, change in policy, etc.”

I haven’t found a home for this story. So, I am posting it here. I hope you will share it. 

If you are not familiar with the problems, here is a short laundry list:
1. AC&C operates in NYC. The Bronx and Queens only handle intake. The animals that are relinquished there are then transferred to full service shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Money was slated to build full service centers in Queens and the Bronx, but this was shot down by the Department of Health (the executive director at AC&C reports to the head of DOH) and a few City Council members.
2. To relinquish a pet, you have to pay a fee. Many people who give up their pets do so because they have hit hard times and cannot afford to care for them. When they see there is a fee and can’t pay it, they often leave their pet nearby one of the facilities. I don’t know which is worse—being homeless or being inside AC&C.
3. Animals come in healthy, quickly get sick, and are then put on the kill list.
4. Some of the dogs and cats that are on the sick list have treatable illnesses. I accompanied a volunteer who rescued a dog that was on the kill list. The dog had a treatable respiratory infection.
5. That same dog wasn’t spayed. Other dogs and cats that get rescued are often not fixed. I thought AC&C was supposed to promote spay/neuter policies.
6. Adoptions are held in the same area where people relinquish their pets. It’s quite upsetting, and I spoke to a handful of potential adopters who waited and waited and were not helped. They left empty handed.
7. Volunteers don’t stick around for long because they are poorly treated.
8. Cages are cleaned once a day. So when an animal relieves himself after a cage is cleaned, he sits in his own excrement.
9. On a rescue of 20 cats from the Brooklyn AC&C 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.
10. The head of the Department of Health (DOH) sits on AC&C’s board and the executive director at AC&C reports directly to DOH.
11. DOH isn’t in the business of saving cats and dogs. They work to protect the public from dangerous dogs.
12. AC&C staff is downtown, and don’t make routine visits to the 5 centers.
13. AC&C was supposed to be No Kill back in 2008. That date has been extended to 2015.

Money is Not the Problem
The only solution will occur if the next mayor of New York City actually cares about the plight of the cats and dogs. I spoke with Mike Arms, former director of North Shore Animal League and president of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in CA. Back in 2001, he turned down the job of executive director at AC&C. He said he would only take the job if AC&C comes out from the Department of Sanitation’s control. Back then, AC&C was run by the Sanitation Department. Today DOH oversees it. Arms said it is the same thing—that unless AC&C is allowed to operate as a separate entity, there will be more deaths. “We are in the business of saving lives,” says Arms, “It’s not in DOH’s interest to help or care for dogs and cats. It’s a shame.”

DOH should release control of AC&C. “We are New York City,” says one animal rescue volunteer. “We can easily raise funds to run AC&C. We can promote fundraising programs. It’s not a money issue. It’s a top on down issue. DOH needs to walk away from AC&C, and new management is desperately needed.”

It breaks my heart that so many people know about AC&C, and nothing changes. In 2013, when politicians vie to be NYC’s next mayor, people need to promote and vote for the candidate who cares about New York City’s cats and dogs. In the meantime, reach out to New York City’s council members, and share your ideas with them.

And thank you for letting me know about AC&C. I really count on Pet News and Views’ readers to help me know what’s going on.

33 comments to Helter Skelter Animal Control

  • Georgina

    How awful. Unfortunately, AC&C is not the only animal shelter with problems. We have to address this as a nation. I volunteer with a local rescue group, and we do our best to get the word out.

  • Lavendar

    AC&C has been around too long abusing cats and dogs. The executive director acts like everything is rosy. I don’t know how people can work there an not get sick from all the stress. It is a sad situation to treat animals this way.

  • Marc

    It is a terrible place, and unfortunately, there are other animal shelters around the world that are poorly run.

  • Yvette

    This is shameful, and you are right AC&C should be put out of its misery.

  • Rocky

    I don’t live in NYC, and didn’t know about AC&C. Thank you.

  • Patti

    It is awful that these shelters are allowed to operate at all.

  • Julia

    I think a lot of politicians are distancing themselves from AC&C because they don’t want the controversy. Sad, Sad, Sad.

  • Robert

    I know AC&C accepts animals and many that come in are in bad shape. We need to educate the public about pet care, how to raise animals, and how to be good pet parents.

  • Vicki

    We can’t wait until 2013. Those poor dogs and cats at AC&C. Thank goodness there are so many kind volunteers.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for listening to your readers and covering this.

  • Nancy

    I meant to add, it is a shame that the mainstream press doesn’t cover places like AC&C. We really need to petition them too.

  • Evie

    Thanks for listening Michele! AC&C has some bad s#*t going on in there. Those poor cats and dogs. It breaks my heart.

  • Orly

    Thanks Michele. I love Pet News and Views, and understand how bad you feel about the treatment or should I say lack of treatment at this shelter. The fact that there isn’t a full shelter system in the Bronx and Queens is wrong, and the fact that some dogs are not walked every day–yes that is right–not just once a day as you point out–is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • Jack

    I volunteered there a long long time ago. Nothing changes, and our city council don’t seem to think much of animals. Scott Stringer did write an informative article on AC&C. He might run for Mayor next year. Here is the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-stringer/protecting-new-yorks-anim_b_928513.html.

  • Barbara

    At a lot of shelters around the country, when a volunteer makes a suggestion, often they are shot down. If they insist, they are not seen as eager to help, but as a pest. Often these volunteers are asked to leave. Some animal shelters value their volunteers, and they listen to them. In many cases, the volunteers are on the frontlines with the animals.

  • Joy

    I used to live in NYC and was aware of the mess at AC&C a while back. I’m sorry to hear that it is still going on.

  • Lesley

    I am going to get all of my friends in NYC to vote for the candidate that cares about the animals. It sounds simple, and it is! We should all do this.

  • Rory

    yes, I know about this. I wrote on your FB page about AC&C, and I understand that giving a food donation to any shelter is a good thing. However, AC&C needs to change its leadership and more.

  • MaryAlice

    It is disappointing that the goings on there isn’t a secret, and that it just exists.

  • Jerneja

    Thank you Michele for posting this and sharing it with the larger public. You know when I read your previous story it made my mad and made me cry. I have been following what’s going on in that hell hole for the last year and what you were told was not the truth. Thanks again. Just my opinion, Julie needs to be put out of her misery. There are tons of more competent people that have soul and are not in animal rescue for the money!!! Thank you to all the people that spoke out!

  • Jerneja

    @Jack: this is great news. If Scott Stringer runs for mayor, we should support him all the way and inform citizens of NY about it. Keep us posted! (in Ohio)

  • Thanks Jerneja,
    I wish I could find a larger outlet for this post. I have a different angle for an AC&C story that I’m working on. So, it doesn’t end here. What we need to do is reach out to the city council and Mayor. The Mayor has the power to release AC&C from its hold from the DOH. That would be a big change right there.–Michele

  • Jerneja

    I have copied and pasted it in my notes on FB (of course with all the info/especially the author) and I will share it from time to time.

  • Ann

    Michele, thanks for this clarifying and useful summary. I wanted to reach out to Rachel Ray who has teamed up with the ASPCA. I don’t believe Ms. Ray knows that the ASPCA just tanked a shelter reform bill in New York (CAARA) that would have addressed some of the ACC problems and certainly the chronic shelter dysfunction statewide. As a result, pit bulls, a majority of the dogs in shelters, in particular will continue to be killed daily. I don’t believe she knows the politics going on in her own backyard. If you want to investigate this story further, please contact me. People believe the ASPCA is all good, and while I am sure they effect some good, they are committed to killing homeless animals as the heart of shelter management. Most people don’t know this and are shocked to find out.

  • Julia S.

    Michele,
    Thanks Michele for writing this article, I have a thought.Would an angle about the ASPCA be a way to talk about the AC&C?

    The ASPCA is a non-profit organization but operates like a comercial enterprise and spends lots of money on Lobbying; that isn’t legal. The ASPCA also markets itself as an organCzation that advocates for the benifit of shelter animals. I don’t know if they are breaking any laws here but it surely is deceptive to claim that it protects animal welfare, when it fights legislation that will do just that? I googled the organization and fraud and found that several states are suing them. One of the things that the ASPCA does is claim it is the local SPCA to collect donations. Nathan Winograd describes this illegal practice in his blog article, ” the albatross about our necks”http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=6325. California,Seatle wash and Massechusets have complained to their attorney generals.

  • Hi,

    I just found out about what is going on with ACC shelter. How can I help to make this issue
    solve for the animals? If someone answers these questions for me I will get involve to help GOD’S loving creatures. I donate to other shelters in my area and I would love to get the word
    out about the ACC shelter. Thank you for reading my post and will wait for any and all reponses.

    Patricia Riggleman

  • Hi Patricia, The best approach is to share news about AC&C on blogs, social media sites, and your local newspapers–if you are in the NYC area. If you are in NY and if you have friends and family in NYC, ask them to write to their City Council members, Borough Presidents, and the Mayor letting them know that you want to see changes at AC&C. Let them know that you support candidates who want to see new management at AC&C, you want to see AC&C operate as a sole entity–not under the Department of Health, and that you want to help. I think this can apply to other shelters around the country too. Also, the Helen Woodward Animal Center offers a FREE program open to all animal shelter personnel that trains workers everything from shelter management to customer relationship to fundraising. Here is the link: http://www.animalcenter.org/acu/. It is truly a wonderful program.
    –Thanks for reading and for your help. Best, Michele

  • Kathy

    I am going to share this on my FB page and make sure it goes viral. It’s a great step in the right direction for the general public to understand what the REAL story is at the AC&C

    Thank you for doing the right thing and rethinking your initial stance on ACC. Money never was the issue – they eat very well at the ACC shelters – but for the most part, sadly, it’s their last meal. I would like to see legislation come out for the next Mayoral election if not before, to Vote for an Independent ACC system in NYC. Getting it out from underneath the DOH should be a real goal as you stated for the upcoming elected officials if not beforehand. Time is of the essence here as we all know for these poor helpless souls. Your numerical points about ACC is an excellent way to view and get a handle on the true issues. Thank you again for producing a reality check and great launch pad for understanding the inherent problems there and please keep up the visibility by carrying forth with this expose of this very serious situation. I think if you do so, you can have a major impact on productive reform of the Helter Skelter shelter system that we call ACC today. Not to mention how many lives can be saved. What concerns me also is that 2015 will turn into 2018 and so on in terms of a creating a “No Kill” shelter system thruout NYC. Procrastination seems to be the underlining theme.

  • I also worry that 2015 will turn into 2018, and so on. I will cover AC&C from time-to-time, and I have a story on volunteers at AC&C and other shelters running tomorrow. I just wish the mainstream press would cover it more. –Michele

  • Hi Julia, I was waiting to hear back from the ASPCA. I did approach them originally while I was researching this post. They did not want to comment. I asked them to comment after, and here is what I was told: “We do try to monitor and respond to as much as we can in social media. In this particular instance, we think it may be best not to respond because we don’t feel we’ll be to have an objective dialogue.” So, my questions were not answered. I believe the ASPCA does a good job lobbying, and they have a wonderful shelter in NYC. I don’t think they are doing anything illegal. –Michele

  • […] Animal Care & Control in New York City seriously needs a management overhaul. […]

  • Kathy

    The ASPCA has to tread carefully on these HIGHLY POLITICAL issues. None of us know all the ins and outs of what has transpired btwn these shelters and animal welfare agencies but it reminds me of an undercover investigation that has been done countless times on Puppy Mills and backyard breeders. Once they know the press is onto them, these puppy mill owners will not let their guard down nor let anyone inside to see their “setup”. Then the animals are in worse condition. I think the ASPCA knows what is going on inside the ACC but if they were to find a way to shut it all down, then what would happen to the thousands of strays that come thru the ACC doors every day? They would be left on the streets and killed immediately. The only glimmer of hope they have today is to get exposure and hopefully adopted thru some sort of shelter system. IN NO WAY am I condoning the ACC system at all, but w/out an alternative system set up what in the world will become of all the strays on the streets of NYC overnight?? The solution comes from the people – responsible pet ownership, neutering and spaying clinics such as the Toby Project’s mobile van for free spaying and neutering and plans in the near future for an entirely new “NO KILL NEW YORK” Shelter system. MONEY, PEOPLE, and TIME are there 3 resources needed to make this happen. The Mainstream Media will start to pick up on it if there is someone leading the way to get the momentum going. They love to jump on an already running bandwagon – it’s more of a guaranteed audience base for them rather than starting their own thunder. Keep it up – you’re onto something really big today I believe!!!!!!