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.