Rabbits have relatively fragile backs and they are prone to injury, especially if the rabbit is not held or picked up correctly. Read any rabbit rescue group website, read any article on rabbit care, do an online search, read the literature of any adoption agency and you’ll get the same answer: “a rabbit can seriously injure themselves if they struggle too much when being picked up, so it is important to lift them carefully, supporting both their front and hind ends so that they do not twist around or kick out with their back legs and hurt their backs.” A broken back is very painful.
But when a rabbit was surrendered to Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) recently, and staff decided to kill the rabbit, the “experts” there did not heed this advice. Instead, the staff member picked the rabbit up by just the ears (ears which were filthy, probably infected, and painful to the touch to begin with), causing the rabbit, as one volunteer described it, to start “crying and coughing.” After possibly breaking the rabbit’s back, the staff member plunged the needle into the body and then tossed him away like yesterday’s trash.
But no one is going to complain. No one is going to come forward so that this staff member isn’t allowed to abuse other animals. Because if they do, they are the ones who will be punished. They are the ones who will be banned. Julie Bank, the ACC director, will not tolerate criticism. Neglect, cruelty, killing, that is endemic and acceptable. But the crime, according to Julie Bank, is bringing attention to it. The crime is to suggest that animals should not be treated that way. And if you commit that “crime,” your punishment is exile. Your punishment is that you will no longer be allowed to help animals. You have to sit by and helplessly watch as the very few animals you could do anything for at ACC are killed instead. You face Sophie’s Choice.
That is the choice faced by those who have to silently endure watching animals languishing in their own filth, going long periods with no food and water, and other basic care. That is the choice faced by those who face the heartbreak of watching animals suffer, with no medical care or pain medications of any kind. That is the choice faced by those who rescue animals and pay, out of their own pockets, enormous sums for medical care because ACC’s own neglect and institutional uncaring got the animals sick and then allowed them to deteriorate further before threatening to kill them if rescuers did not step up to the plate.
Julie Bank’s tenure in New York City has been marked by neglect, abuse, needless killing, and vindictive retribution to those call it into question and want it to end. She has singled out for retribution the animal lovers in order to protect the animal abusers. Despite the fanciful and dishonest claims by Maddie’s Fund, the Mayor’s Alliance, and the ASPCA, all of whom have conspired to hide the truth, the latter two in order to enrich themselves and all of whom deserve our fierce and unequivocal condemnation because of it, New York City is in chaos. And animals are suffering greatly.
Webster’s dictionary defines euthanasia as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.” Unfortunately, at ACC, animals are not solely being killed because they are hopelessly sick or injured, but rather as “population control.” No one who cares one iota about animals would call this euthanasia. It is killing, pure and simple, and denying that mocks the cause of both the truth and of our humanity.
I have repeatedly and unceasingly called for an end to killing. It is not ethical. It is not necessary. It should not be legal. But today, it is done routinely. It is systematized. Our so-called “shelters” often do little more than kill animals. They are slaughterhouses. Without minimizing that, in an arena of killing, it is crucial that “shelters” at the very least meet the second prong of the analysis which requires killing to be done in “a relatively painless way.” As one agency has noted,
The euthanasia process must result in a painless, rapid unconsciousness followed by respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest and ultimate death. For euthanasia to be truly euthanasia, the animal should be as free from stress and anxiety as possible.
Unfortunately, the use of sodium pentobarbital, even if properly administered, does not in and of itself ensure a “humane” death. While method is one of the most important factors, nonetheless simply requiring lethal injection does not guarantee that the process is either humane or compassionate.
Shelters who kill, particularly those which kill large numbers of animals as ACC does, are obligated to ensure that employees are technically proficient, competent, skilled, compassionate, properly trained, and doing everything in their power to make sure the animals are as free from stress and anxiety as possible. A “relatively painless” death can only occur in an environment where sensitivity, compassion, skill and environment all combine with efforts to “minimize distress and anxiety,” as required by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (2000) Panel on Euthanasia.
A former manager in one of the nation’s largest animal control departments stated that,
[E]uthanizing requires an enormous amount of compassion, kindness and emotional strength. During euthanasia I witnessed little care toward the animals. Considering this was to be the last contact the animal would have with the real world I found this rather disappointing.
Sadly, this is true at ACC. But it more than true. ACC appears deliberately trying to swing the pendulum as far as possible in the other direction to make it as difficult, uncaring, and painful as possible for the animals.
How do we change this?
On January 21, at a sold-out conference in New York City, I intend to tell people not only how communities across the country have achieved No Kill, what programs are necessary, how to increase adoptions, and what standard to hold themselves up to, but also what experience has shown to be the truth: that if they want to achieve a No Kill New York City, they need to elevate experience above hope, reality above foolish sentimentality that we can reform those who do not want to be reformed, and fight. A fight is what has created No Kill in other communities and a fight is what it will take in NYC.
Unfortunately, things just got more complicated. I had hoped my visit to New York City would be a source for greater lifesaving. Julie Bank, however, appears intent to turn it into a source for more killing. One of the formerly scheduled speakers at the day-long seminar, Peter McKosky of Empty Cages Collective, was threatened with being banned if he said anything critical of ACC at the event. The irony is that Peter never intended to spend his time criticizing ACC, but empowering New Yorkers to save more feral cats by reevaluating how they did their work with cats in the field and cats in the shelter. Nonetheless, the threat was the last of a long line of abuses he and his organization and, of course, the animals he has tried to save have suffered at the hands of ACC under the “leadership” of Julie Bank and he asked for my assistance. These abuses are outlined in the following letter to Julie Bank which I wrote on behalf of the No Kill Advocacy Center:
Dear Ms. Bank,
We have been informed that you are threatening to violate the civil rights of P.J. McKosky who runs the Brooklyn-based rescue group, Empty Cages Collective. Specifically, you stated that if Mr. McKosky says anything critical about Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) at a January 21 conference on how to reform the troubled New York City pound system where he is a speaker/panelist, that his right to rescue animals from ACC will be rescinded. This is an illegal attempt to intimidate and silence Mr. McKosky which cannot be allowed to stand. Rescuers like Mr. McKosky are the voice of the animals and the conscience of the community. Silencing rescuers allows ACC to continue neglecting animals and killing them needlessly.
In 2007, the No Kill Advocacy Center successfully sued the County of Los Angeles for retaliating against a volunteer who publicized inhumane conditions in that facility. We are, therefore, putting you on notice that any attempt to remove Mr. McKosky’s ability to rescue animals from ACC will not be tolerated. Federal law (42 U.S.C. Section 1983) prohibits a state or municipal government to take action designed to prevent or intimidate people from exercising their First Amendment rights, or punish them for doing so, and there can be no dispute that complaining about inhumane conditions at animal shelters is a constitutionally protected right.
While New York City has claimed that ACC is an independent non-profit, federal courts have ruled that applicable civil rights laws apply to a private agency performing the function of a municipal animal shelter. In reality, however, ACC is a government agency. It was created by the Giuliani administration, has a singular mission of running animal control for the City, operates under city-owned and controlled facilities, and has a governing structure dominated by the City. While ACC was formed as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, it is controlled by the Mayor and Health Commissioner.
As you well know, Mr. McKosky has saved countless animals that your agency intended to kill. When the ASPCA recently returned an asymptomatic cat who tested positive for Feline Leukemia to be killed at ACC, Mr. McKosky saved the cat’s life. When a small puppy contracted parvovirus and canine influenza, he saved the dog, incurring almost $9,000 in medical bills because ACC failed to keep the shelter clean, failed to protect the puppy from disease, and beyond prescribing some antibiotics, refused to treat him thereafter. When a sick, dehydrated cat needed heat support and fluids which ACC refused to provide, he saved the cat even as the cat went into shock because of lack of prompt and necessary care. In addition, as one of the few rescuers who also saves avian and other non-dog and cat species, he has rescued animals such as a chicken who was allowed to languish in pain with a fractured wing with no medical care of any kind provided at ACC. And he has tried to rescue others who died in your agency’s custody, before he could save them, because of lack of care. If these conditions existed in a private home, the individuals involved would have been subject to charges of neglect and/or animal cruelty.
Ms. Bank, ACC fails to employ basic standards of care to keep animals healthy and it fails to provide prompt and necessary veterinary care, including pain medication. The cost in animal suffering and animal lives is staggering. But in order to silence those who want to bring these practices to an end, ACC has also created a culture of fear among those who truly care about animals (the volunteers and rescuers) that if they speak out, they will be banned.
In 2010, for example, you unveiled a new volunteer policy that threatened to expel volunteers for doing so. Specifically, the policy stated that volunteers may not “publicly criticiz[e]” or cast the agency “in a negative light” without permission from ACC. It also prohibited them from “[p]osting [criticism] on any internet site such as Facebook, My Space, Craig’s List, etc.” It further stated that “[v]olunteers are prohibited from distributing their personal information, or opinions in regards [to ACC] volunteers, staff, animals, and/or policies to the public.” Those who do, the policy stated, “will be terminated.” That policy came after complaints by volunteers and others about inhumane conditions at ACC including animals wallowing in their own waste, cats and kittens going without food and water for extended periods of time, dogs not being properly socialized, ongoing killing of healthy animals, and failure to treat medical conditions.
To downplay the severity of these problems, ACC continues to deceive New York City taxpayers by falsely claiming to adopt out over 20,000 animals a year. In actuality, ACC adopts out a small percentage of that total. It is the work of organizations like Empty Cages Collective that is saving the majority of these animals. Without their intervention, ACC would have put those animals to death, as the agency threatens to do every day unless Mr. McKosky and others like him save their lives.
Yet, it appears you are willing to casually dismiss those contributions and put all the animals he saves to death if he tries to better their plight by exercising his First Amendment rights. This is not only intolerable, it also illegal.
If Julie Bank wants a fight, a fight is what we’ll give her.