Ed Sayres & His Proxies
February 20, 2012 by Nathan J. Winograd
Amy Paulin, Nancy Perry, & The ASPCA’s Effort to Turn Back the Clock on Animal Protection in NYS by 40 Years.
The fight against NYS Assembly Bill A05449 has brought many new animal lovers to our cause. The facebook page of the legislative sponsor of this bill, Amy Paulin, is overwhelmed by thousands of comments by animal lovers begging her to withdraw her “Quick Kill Bill.” The number of e-mails sent to legislators in opposition is now well over 18,000 and when we asked for donations to pay for newspaper ads in Paulin’s hometown, we raised thousands of dollars to do so in just a matter of hours. Clearly, New York’s animal lovers are angry and fighting back. There is a right side to this issue, and it is NOT the one being championed by the ASPCA.
Yet because media reports about the battle over this deadly legislation have failed to place it into a proper historical perspective, and in order to ensure that everyone fighting this dangerous bill is an informed and effective advocate, I wanted to provide the back story of A05449 and how it came to be. For those of you who might be new to this issue and already angry with the ASPCA about their attempts not only to stop rescue access but to erode what little protections animals entering shelters in New York already have, you will no doubt find the history behind this bill equally shocking and, hopefully, equally motivating in the cause of its defeat.
For anyone who is familiar with the back-story of A05449, the ASPCA “Quick Kill” bill being sponsored by Assembly Member Amy Paulin, it can be incredibly frustrating to read media accounts of the battle about this harmful and deadly legislation. In two recent New York Daily News articles, the ASPCA is portrayed as having introduced the bill in order to address existing deficiencies in New York law regarding shelter animals. The legislation is described not only as necessary, but equally false, the article leaves the impression that the ASPCA conceived of this legislation on its own, to address real and pressing problems in New York shelters, and not, as is really the case, as a means of co-opting and therefore destroying true shelter reform legislation introduced by No Kill advocates in New York over the last three years.
Unfortunately, the media often do not know what to make of a battle that seems, at a first and quick impression, to pit animal lovers against animal lovers. When the environmental movement takes on polluters or oil companies, it is easy for outsiders to orient themselves to the struggle and to understand whose interests each side represents. But when animal rescuers take on the ASPCA, confusion often sets in. With deadlines looming and the age of investigative journalism in its death throes, rare is the reporter who takes the time to research and understand what is truly going on, rather than to simply fall back on preconceived notions that favor the status quo. In short, many journalists simply cave into their biases: assuming that because the ASPCA is supposedly an animal protection organization, and because the ASPCA is old, wealthy and powerful, that it must be on the right side of this issue—the side of the animals. No Kill advocates are therefore conveniently written off as unreasonable, even though, in truth, the policies we advocate, and not those of our opponents, are those that most faithfully represent the mainstream views of most Americans who do not want animals in shelters to be killed out of custom or convenience.
A quick look at the facebook page of Amy Paulin, the legislative sponsor of A05449, filled with thousands of comments by New York animal lovers asking her to withdraw her deadly bill and none in support, combined with the 15,000 e-mails that flooded the offices of Albany legislators begging them to kill the ASPCA bill on the eve of an important vote, and it becomes clear which side represents the views of most people, and which side represents the extreme. Despite their professed missions, our nation’s old-guard animal protection organizations are staffed by former kill shelter directors and their friends. As such, they have tragically become the equivalent of corrupt labor unions, fighting innovation and accountability at our nation’s shelters at all costs. And perhaps no story demonstrates this point more clearly than the story of how the ASPCA/Paulin “Quick Kill” bill came into existence.
Three years ago, a one year old dog named Oreo was intentionally thrown off a sixth floor Brooklyn roof top. Oreo suffered two broken legs and a fractured rib. Oreo also appeared to have been beaten in the past—several of the neighbors in the building where Oreo lived reported hearing the sounds of the dog being hit. The ASPCA nursed her back to health and arrested the perpetrator. They also dubbed her the “miracle dog,” and fundraised off her plight. But the miracle was short-lived.
According to Ed Sayres, the President of the ASPCA, when Oreo recovered from her injuries, she started to show signs of aggression. After a series of temperament tests, Ed Sayres made the decision to kill her. (Although there are videos taken of Oreo, the ASPCA has refused to release them. The only documentation we have of Oreo is a photograph of ASPCA employees hugging her, their own faces inches from hers). The New York Times reported the story the day before Oreo’s scheduled execution. Pets Alive, a No Kill sanctuary in Upstate New York which specializes in rehabilitating aggressive dogs (and, if that proves impossible, safely caring for them for the rest of their lives), contacted the ASPCA to ask if they could take Oreo. They made numerous phone calls and sent numerous e-mails. They were ignored, hung-up on and lied to. And Oreo was killed.
As word spread among animal lovers about what had happened, the furor and condemnation of the ASPCA was immediate and severe. No Kill rescue organizations, tired of shelters killing animals they wanted to take, adopted Oreo as their mascot and sought the introduction of a bill that would make it illegal for a shelter to kill an animal a rescue organization was willing to save. Assembly Member Micah Kellner, whose district includes the headquarters of the ASPCA, called it “Oreo’s Law.”
Although Oreo’s death was the catalyst, the legislation was desperately needed statewide. A survey of New York rescue groups revealed that 71% had experienced shelter directors who refused to work with them, and who then killed the very animals they had offered to take. It was estimated that if Oreo’s Law passed, 25,000 animals a year—mostly friendly and healthy dogs, cats, puppies, kittens, rabbits and other animals—would be saved who would otherwise be killed by New York shelters. The number could be even higher, as much as 60,000 animals a year.
Meet Ed Sayres
Ed Sayres—a long-time opponent of No Kill efforts nationwide and spiteful of the backlash against his killing of Oreo—declared that he would use his leverage in the State Capitol to defeat the bill. And although the public support for the bill was overwhelming, with calls to the New York legislators shutting down the servers in the NYS Assembly not once but twice, Oreo’s Law was defeated by a coalition of anti-animal “animal protection” groups, spearheaded by the ASPCA.
Oreo’s Law was introduced again in 2011 but under a new name—the Companion Animal Access & Rescue Act or CAARA—with the hope that changing the title of the bill might diminish ASPCA opposition. No such luck. Again the ASPCA led the opposition which defeated the bill. With CAARA pending again this year, the ASPCA sought a new tactic to ensure its defeat and its final demise: introducing competing legislation. Ed Sayres attempted to mollify opposition by passing the ASPCA’s own “rescue access” bill. But not only was the bill nothing of the sort—actually giving shelters the legal right not to work with rescue groups and therefore to kill animals rescuers wanted to save—but it went even went one, egregious step further. As if to punish rescuers and animal lovers for daring to challenge the mighty ASPCA, A05449 actually erodes one of the most important protections animals in shelters have: mandatory holding periods. Angry at those who question what until recently has been the ASPCA’s unlimited authority to determine sheltering policy in New York state, Ed Sayres is now trying to not only co-opt and destroy efforts at true rescue access legislation, but to turn back the clock on animal protection in New York state forty years to 1971.
Contrary to misperceptions by the media and contrary to ASPCA assertions, A04559 does NOT mandate rescue access. It merely suggests it, and then codifies in law a shelter’s right not to work with rescue organizations. It states that shelters “may” give animals to rescue groups rather than kill them, instead of “shall” give the animals to them is required by CAARA, A07312, the bill supported by the New York rescue community and thousands of New York animal lovers. And in codifying a shelter’s unlimited authority to determine whether a rescue group or particular animal qualifies, the law eviscerates whistleblower protection for rescuers who want to expose cruel and abusive treatment of animals in the shelters they may visit but are now afraid to do so for fear of losing their rescue privileges.
Other parts of A05449 which seem to give the illusion of reform are worded so as to be merely suggestive. The bill suggests that shelters scan for microchips and post lost animals on the internet only if they find it “practicable” to do so. Again, the real shelter reform bill mandates that these common sense things be done whether a shelter wants to or not precisely because at far too many shelters they are not being done, with shelters already finding it inconvenient, or not “practicable,” to do so.
But the worst part of the bill is the provision which eliminates holding periods for scared and shy animals, granting shelters the authority to kill such animals the moment they walk in the door. If shelter staff determines that an animal is in “psychological pain,” the animal can be killed immediately. Not only is killing an animal for being scared or shy cruel, and not only is killing an animal who is fearful of being harmed both paradoxical and absurd (a shelter is doing the very thing they claim they want to prevent: harm an animal), but there is no definition in law as to what constitutes “psychological pain” and no standards as to how it is to be applied. If any two shelter employees—including the janitor, the receptionist, or a kennel attendant—believe that an animal is in “psychological pain,” that animal can be killed immediately.
For those New Yorkers who share their lives with a dog or cat, the threat this bill creates to their cherished pet is very real: the next time the gardener accidentally leaves the gate open or the next time the kids forget to close the front door and their pet escapes, it may be the last time he is ever seen alive. Because being scared or shy are precisely the behaviors that often characterize lost or stray pets, shelters would be granted the authority to kill many animals immediately upon intake, before their families even have a chance to look for them. In many cases, before their families even have a chance to notice that their beloved pet is missing.
Meet Nancy Perry
In 2009, after his killing of Oreo, Sayres promised the ASPCA Board of Directors that the outpouring of concern would quiet after a few days or weeks. It continues three years later. In fact, the outcry over Sayres’ actions remains strong and to date, unending. Unable to delete comments from the ASPCA Facebook page fast enough, the condemnation and call for his ouster is not only intensifying, but diversifying. Assembly Member Amy Paulin, the sponsor of the ASPCA “Quick Kill” bill has had her Facebook page completely taken over. Ads will begin running in her district newspaper this week and a billboard will soon grace her Scarsdale, NY community. In addition, animal lovers have turned their ire to the Chair of the ASPCA Board of Directors, demanding that she cease shirking her duty by turning a blind eye to the ASPCA’s war on animals and rescue groups. And Joseph Lentol, the longest running Assembly Member in New York, has joined the fray.
Assembly Member Lentol recently released a statement explaining that he understands that A05449 is designed to give “absolute power” to shelters, eviscerating any whistleblower protections of the Kellner bill. In addition, rather than parrot the fiction that shelters care and are working hard to save lives, he noted that, “the worst thing we could do would be to allow the ASPCA to go backwards by permitting them to limit the organizations they will work with. If an organization faults them – they could find themselves off the list of approved rescues! That’s not wise and that is not how we work to open up all publicly funded institutions for public review.” The proud parent of his own rescued pets, Lentol admitted that his own animals may have been killed under the bill. He is now assuring New Yorkers that the bill will not be reported out of his committee.
A caring man would not have sacrificed animals to his own vendetta. A smart man would have walked away from the bill given the overwhelming opposition. Ed Sayres, unfortunately, is neither. Instead of admitting that the effort to derail true shelter reform was over, Ed Sayres is attempting a superficial makeover by blaming Paulin and offering up a better spokesman. And he thought he found one, in Nancy Perry, the ASPCA’s Vice-President of Government Relations. It is now Perry’s job to quell the unrest over the bill and sell it in a softer way. It is her job to distance the ASPCA from the “psychological pain” language, the center of the public’s ire and a thinly-veiled declaration of war on feral cats and other animals who act traumatized in a shelter environment. The ASPCA, which has proved itself willing to stab animals and animal rescuers in the back, has chosen to do the same to Amy Paulin, and Nancy Perry is wielding the blade.
Late last week, Nancy Perry released a statement on the ASPCA Pro Facebook page that attempts to rewrite history and imply that Paulin, on her own and without their guidance, authored their bill. Perry stated that the bill had problems she, too, is concerned about, and that Paulin made a mistake. It would be the first of her many lies. According to Assembly Member Micah Kellner, “The ASPCA isn’t just supporting A5449-A [which is bad enough], they wrote this bill behind closed doors… Everything in A5549-A is written exactly as the ASPCA wanted. Don’t let them fool you by blaming Albany. This bill is a huge step backward for animals because the ASPCA wanted it that way… As with most things in this world it comes down to maintaining power…” In fact, they chose Amy Paulin precisely because of her reputation for introducing bills without regard for what is in them, without even reading them. The ASPCA wanted a legislator willing to rubber stamp their power grab, and Paulin fit the bill.
Proving herself as willing as Sayres to betray the animals, Perry continued with several additional misrepresentations. She stated that the ASPCA’s support for the Paulin bill was only a response to the fact that Kellner’s legislation was seen as an unfunded mandate, and that Albany would not pass it: “We don’t think the Kellner bill can pass—we have been told in no uncertain terms it is not passable. The unfunded mandate problem is not about finding funding. It is just the reality of how the New York state legislature works. They just won’t pass bills that force expensive requirements on local entities.”
Not only is this an admission that the Paulin bill does not require shelters to do anything they claim is not “practicable” (giving them the ability to cite lack of resources for the refusal to do anything differently than they are doing now), but it is a lie. Paulin herself has authored bills that imposed requirements on local governments without any funding attached. And more importantly, the inability to pass the Kellner bill in the past is only because of the ASPCA’s opposition.
Perry also lied to animal lovers by claiming that the ASPCA is motivated in its opposition to the Kellner bill, and before it, Oreo’s Law, because of a fear of hoarding. There is no question that the effects of hoarding are tragic: animals wallow in their own waste, are denied food and water for long periods of time, do not get necessary veterinary care, are sometimes crammed into cages and do not receive walks or regular exercise, all of which results in tremendous suffering and death. Hoarding is cruel, painful, and abhorrent, but it doesn’t have anything to do with this issue. Rescue access laws are about leveling the playing field between large non-profit organizations like the ASPCA which enjoy unlimited power and discretion over a community’s homeless animals, and smaller ones which, while founded for the same purpose, are prevented from fulfilling their own missions by shelters which refuse to work collaboratively with them to save lives.
Moreover, not only do the conditions which describe hoarders precisely describe conditions in many New York shelters which rescue groups want to deliver animals from, but using the animal hoarding card to defeat rescue access legislation is nothing more than ugly fear mongering. Hoarding is the result of mental illness and is not as common as many animal protection organizations would have us believe. Psychologists estimate that only 2% of the population suffers from hoarding, and of those, not all of them “collect” animals—many collect inanimate objects. By contrast, killing is endemic to animal shelters in the U.S. These are animals who have a 100% guarantee of being killed if rescue access isn’t mandated by law because rescue groups are only empowered to save those animals scheduled to be killed. So, there is a 100% chance the animal is killed vs. a slim possibility they’ll end up with a hoarder. Is it really a difficult decision?
To suggest that we must protect animals from rescuers is also backward thinking. Shelter killing is the number one cause of death for healthy animals in the U.S. If we care about saving animals, we must save them FROM shelters by putting them in the hands of RESCUERS. Moreover, logic and fairness—both to rescuers and the animals—demand that altruistic people who devote their time and energy to helping the animals who end up in our nation’s shelters stop being equated with mentally ill people who cause them harm. Animal rescuers seek to deliver animals from the type of cruelty and abuse that characterizes not only the care or lack thereof given to animals by hoarders, but, in reality, by many of our shelters as well.
Despite similar fear mongering over a decade ago by HSUS when Perry was working for them as California was the first state in the nation to consider such legislation, that provision has been an unqualified success, increasing the number of animals saved, without the downsides—including hoarding—which opponents claimed. Indeed, coupled with other modest shelter reforms, the number of dogs and cats killed in California shelters dropped from over 570,000 animals the year before the law was passed to roughly 328,000 the year after, a decline of almost 250,000 dogs and cats. And, the number of small animals saved, such as rabbits, also spiked according to an analysis by one of the largest law firms in the world. Indeed, that analysis not only concluded rescue rights in California have been incredibly successful, it concluded such laws were necessary in other states. In short, we have PROOF and experience that concerns about hoarding amount to nothing and that rescue access saves lives, facts which Perry and the ASPCA conveniently ignore.
And yet despite the fact that killing in shelters is so common and hoarding so rare, nonetheless, the Kellner bill has significant protections against such an outcome, which were put in the bill in the hopes of convincing the ASPCA to support the bill. It excludes organizations with a volunteer, staff member, director, and/or officer who has a conviction for animal neglect, cruelty, and/or dog fighting, and suspends the organization while such charges are pending. In addition, it requires the rescue organization to be a not-for-profit organization, recognized under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). As a result, they must register with the federal government, and with several state agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office. It provides a mechanism for inspection of the rescue organization. And, more importantly, nothing in it required shelters to work with specific rescue groups. They are free to work with other rescue organizations if they choose and they are also free to adopt the animals themselves. What they cannot do, what they should not be permitted to do, is to kill animals when those animals have a place to go.
Perry’s final lie is to “apologize” for the “misunderstanding” and to urge animal lovers to work with the ASPCA to pass legislation to save more lives. But how is this possible when they are committed to defeating the existing bill which does just that? The Kellner bill is a strong, effective rescue access bill with safeguards to address all of their alleged concerns, and yet they refuse to support it, all the while arguing that we need to work together to come up with a bill that can pass, when, in truth they are the only thing standing in its way. Given how easily the ASPCA has defeated true rescue access laws in the past two years, and given how easily their Quick Kill bill passed the Agriculture Committee despite intense public opposition, how can Perry possibly claim that the Kellner Bill would be defeated even if the ASPCA threw their weight behind it? To state that the ASPCA wants to pass legislation “that will help animals” while refusing to not only support, but working to defeat the very legislation that does just that, is illogical and absurd. If that were true, the choice would be easy. They would support the Kellner bill. And so, Perry—who came to the regressive ASPCA by way of the equally regressive Humane Society of the United States—offers little more than Orwellian doublespeak at the behest of Sayres: “The bill we wrote is not our bill;” “The legislator we chose is not our legislator;” “We regret that the Kellner bill cannot pass because of our own opposition preventing it from passing.”
Perry’s machinations to the contrary, the ASPCA’s Quick Kill bill is not good for animals, it is not good for animal lovers, it is not good for New York, and it is not a good precedent for the nation. For the first time anywhere in the U.S., legislation is being sought that would allow shelters to kill animals based on a perceived state of mind, eliminating fundamental protections animals entering shelters have had for decades. Although as anyone acquainted with the crisis of cruelty and uncaring that characterizes our nation’s dysfunctional animal sheltering system can attest, our shelters are already poorly run houses of horror where animals face a better chance of being killed than exiting alive. But at the very least, mandatory holding periods, when they are obeyed, allow people the opportunity to reclaim their missing animals, and they afford homeless animals a little time and space to be adopted.
If the ASPCA has its way, and A05449 passes, New York shelters, which in theory exist to help homeless animals and reunite stray animals with their families, will become nothing more than dog and cat slaughterhouses. And if the law then catches on with regressive organizations in other states who introduce similar legislation which comes with the blessing of the powerful and influential ASPCA, the body count could be astronomical. And for what purpose?
Not because of a glaring deficiency in New York law regarding holding periods that the ASPCA was honestly and responsibly trying to amend so that the needs of animals in that state could be better served, but rather, as a spiteful vendetta of one hateful, heartless man: Ed Sayres of the ASPCA—a man who has proved himself willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of animals to his own blind ambition. And a man who has surrounded himself with sycophants and “yes men” willing to do his bidding despite the body count.
What You Can Do:
If—and ONLY if—you are a New York Resident, please contact NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ask him not to allow this bill to reach the Assembly floor. There is text provided for you, but as always adding your own heartfelt and polite message is always more effective: http://bit.ly/AEHufj
For those outside of New York who want to register your voice, there are three things you can and should do: