Animal Care and Control: The Sad Failure of New York City’s Municipal Shelter System

Dear Colleagues:

Animal Care and Control of New York City, which has operated New York’s municipal animal shelter system since 1995, is an institution plagued with problems. There are shocking allegations of animal abuse and neglect, including a recent report that ACC killed eight puppies who would have been taken and placed by rescue groups.

The behavioral assessment program, which includes taking away food or a toy from a hungry or stressed dog, or seeing how a stressed dog reacts when confronted by another dog, raises significant doubt about whether potential adopters are given anything like an accurate picture about how dogs will behave once they are adopted.

ACC provides a list of dogs and cats who are going to be destroyed between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on the eve of the day that they will be killed. ACC closes at 8:00 p.m. and re-opens in the morning at 8:00 a.m. but it is difficult, if not impossible, to get through on the phone. Killing starts at around 10 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. Rescue groups and adopters are given virtually no time to get animals out of the three shelters operated by ACC. Every night, there is a frantic attempt to save lives and although many animals are saved by rescue groups despite the restrictive and unreasonable policies of ACC, many healthy animals are killed.

A story that appeared on May 16, 2011 provides a troubling insight into the ACC. Emily Tanen was an employee with the ACC program that supposedly acts as a liason between the ACC and rescue groups:

Emily took it upon herself to photograph all of the dogs at the shelter facility – she had a special knack for capturing the inner beauty of her subjects.

Because of her touching, soulful photos, many otherwise “hard to place” or even “unadoptable” dogs were rescued.

But apparently, her beautiful photos of homeless dogs included something that the “powers that be” of the NY Animal Care and Control did not want – photos of dogs receiving human contact.

Her amazing images were often the difference between life and death – for dogs that have no ability to speak on their own behalf, the touching photos were frequently the key to a life-saving rescue….

Images that touched the heart – images that elicited enough feeling from those that viewed them that a life could literally be saved.

But now she is gone from the facility – a powerful advocate for the voiceless animals is no longer there to help.

Drab, dreary, emotionless photos are all that will remain.

I understand that running an animal shelter in a place like New York City is difficult for those with the very best of intentions. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that ACC has a number of policies and practices that appear to be counterproductive at best. And, if even a fraction of the allegations of neglect at ACC are true, then ACC is a hell hole for the animals who are unfortunate enough to find themselves there.

It is never morally justifiable to kill a healthy animal and one healthy animal killed at ACC or any animal shelter is one animal too many. ACC is not only killing hundreds of animals per month, but seems to be in a rush to do so and to do whatever it can to frustrate the efforts of rescue groups and committed people, such as Emily Tanen, to save these animals. Moreover, ACC places a terrible burden on rescue groups, forcing them to engage in a daily frantic rush to save whatever animals they can.

It is high time for there to be better control of New York’s Animal Care and Control. And it is time for New York City shift toward a progressive no-kill shelter situation. This can be achieved if New Yorkers have political will to make it happen.

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If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy; it’s better for your health and for the planet. But, most important, it’s the morally right thing to do. If you are vegan, educate everyone you can about veganism.

And if you can, please adopt or foster a homeless animal. There are so many who need your help. If you do not have the room or resources for a dog or cat or rabbit, there are many smaller animals, such as mice, rats, turtles, and fish, who also need homes. If you have land, there are also many larger animals and farm animals, who need homes.

Caring for individual nonhuman animals is an important part of what animal rights is all about. And if you are involved in animal rescue, remember that there is no difference between the animal you save and the animal you eat.

If you have a companion animal, please make sure that the animal does not reproduce. We do not need any more domesticated animals coming into existence!

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2011 Gary L. Francione

Added May 23:

New York Assemblyperson Micah Zellner has proposed legislation that would broaden the ability of rescue groups to get animals out of ACC. Here is a story about Mr. Zellner’s proposal.