Discover more from Nathan Winograd
Too much killing, too little caring
The New York City pound and the ASPCA continue to betray cats and kittens
A recent article in The New York Times by Erin Nolan blames the fact that New York City Animal Care & Control (ACC) closes its door to cats and kittens and threatens to kill the ones in the “shelter” on two things — first, people surrendering their pandemic-adopted animals in large numbers; and second, people for not adopting animals in sufficient numbers.
The article is typical of those appearing nationwide but no less wrong because of it. No matter how often misinformation about increased post-pandemic surrenders and decreased adoptions gets repeated, it doesn’t change the facts that prove the opposite. Aside from an epic failure of journalism to accurately report on this topic, these articles are also unfortunate because they allow shelters to continue avoiding accountability for their own shoddy practices by pointing the finger of blame outward.
So what do the facts show? And therefore, what is really to blame for problems in New York City and elsewhere? Let’s start with intakes, which at ACC are still well below pre-pandemic levels. So far this year, New York City has taken in 26% fewer dogs and 33% fewer cats than in 2019: 2,587 dogs compared to 3,486 in 2019 and 4,416 cats compared to 6,581 in 2019.
For most communities, these sound like excessive numbers for six months (6,073 dogs and cats), even if they are significantly lower than years past, but New York City is the largest metropolis in the U.S., with 8,486,000 residents. The per capita intake rate is only 0.3 dogs and 0.5 cats per 1,000 people, a fraction of the national average. The U.S. average is about 10 dogs and cats per 1,000 people — 20 times the New York City rate — and shelters with even higher intake rates have 99% placement rates.
New York City also has the largest adoption market in the nation, is located in the center of our nation’s wealth (along with California and Texas), has higher per capita revenues than every city in the U.S. except San Francisco, and partners with the ASPCA, one of the wealthiest animal charities in the world. In 2021, the ASPCA had $390 million in revenue and $575 million in assets, including $310 million in investments and $105 million in savings. When it comes to paying for programs to find adoptive homes, the sky’s the limit in New York City.
The problem isn’t a shortage of veterinarians, as ACC and the ASPCA allege, and the New York Times parrots. It is that ACC refuses to run the shelter competently, and the ASPCA doesn’t want to spend money on helping animals. ACC remains largely passive while expecting others, notably rescuers, to do a job for which it was awarded a 34-year contract worth over $1 billion ($1,487,966,471.00) of the public’s money. And, at best, the ASPCA spends 2% on animals in shelters, and spreads this out across the country. By contrast, it willingly spends enormous amounts of money on fundraising, hoards it in offshore accounts in the Caribbean, and pays excessive salaries: “Tax filings show ASPCA CEO Matt Berkshadker rakes in nearly $1 million a year and 259 of his employees make six figures.”
So why is ACC killing animals and turning away cats and kittens to be abandoned or re-abandoned? The same reason other regressive pounds, like Orange County in California and Dallas in Texas, are doing so.
Across the country, pandemic-related closures have been made permanent, including restricting hours and making it more difficult to adopt, resulting in potential adopters being turned away. These shelters also refuse to re-launch the programs and services they scuttled during the pandemic, even though they resulted in 95% - 99% placement rates despite higher intake rates.
So while it is true that cat adoptions are down 16% at ACC, intakes are down 33%, so it is still ahead in terms of numbers. Moreover, it has no one to blame but itself as it has reduced public access. For example, the Bronx Resource Center is only open for adoption four days a week until 4 pm. Staten Island does not have hours amenable to working people during weekdays and is closed Monday and Tuesday. The Brooklyn shelter is closed by 5 pm during the workweek. Only Manhattan stays open until 6:30 pm, but only two days a week, rather than seven.
In addition, ACC requires a multi-step process that discourages people from visiting the shelter until they have an approved online application, even though unscheduled visits have a documented track record of increasing adoption. Worse, many potential adopters have complained that they don’t hear back about their applications. ACC also limits the number of people who can visit — a maximum of two per family — and how long they can stay — a maximum of 30 minutes. This prevents families with children from visiting and reduces the chance of adoption for those who do. The longer a family spends in the shelter, the more likely they are to adopt.
That’s not all. ACC has a waitlist system at the shelters, sometimes requires multiple visits before people can finalize their adoption, and tells people that once they go through the bureaucratic process, which could take days, to expect the actual adoption process to take several additional hours.
ACC can’t have it both ways. It cannot discourage adoptions post-pandemic while lamenting fewer adoptions compared to prior years when those procedures were not in place. But as long as ACC can blame others for its own failures — and newspapers like the New York Times amplify those excuses — New York City’s elected and appointed officials will fail to hold the agency accountable.
Aside from misreporting about why ACC is closing its doors to cats and kittens, The New York Times article is also internally contradictory. On the one hand, Nolan writes that ACC “euthanizes animals only if they have medical or behavioral problems that would make it difficult for them to be adopted” — a claim no one believes. On the other, she writes that ACC recently put a dog who is “friendly, playful and shy” on the kill list, as well as a “highly social and playful dog,” and a cat who enjoys “cheek and chin scratches.”
Which is it?
Once again, ACC wants to have it both ways. And with its hometown newspaper providing it political cover, what’s to discourage it from doing so?
To receive future articles and support my fight for the animals, please subscribe.