I Love New York(ers)

When you read the Maddie’s Fund reports on their New York City project, you’ll find no mention of the rabbit who was picked up by infected ears and cruelly put to death a few weeks ago. You’ll not read about the puppy whose leg was recently broken by staff at Animal Care & Control of New York City (ACC) or the dog who was “mistakenly” killed because he looked like another dog they wanted to kill. There will be no mention of the cats in severe pain who are not afforded pain medication, the volunteers who are banned for trying to improve conditions, or the rescuers who are threatened for exercising their First Amendment rights. You won’t see any mention of animals lying in their own filth, chewing off their own tails, or going long periods without food or water. There will be no discussion of the telephones at ACC which do not get answered, costing animals their lives or that people who want to adopt animals actually have to wait as long as nine hours to do so. Nor will there be a mention of the witch hunt ACC director Julie Bank engages in when evidence of this systematic neglect, abuse, and killing is leaked; a hunt not to find the perpetrators of animal abuse, but to punish and ban the whistle blowers trying to improve conditions.

Even while ACC staff admits they kill healthy animals and even while healthy animals are put on the kill lists, and they subsequently cook the books to claim falsely that none are, Maddie’s Fund will remain content to look the other way. Instead, you’ll read that New York City is a national model; that those who lead the effort are lodestars of the movement; that no healthy animals are being killed; and that other communities should emulate their efforts.

If the seminar I attended last weekend in New York City is any indication, and I believe that it is, New York advocates aren’t buying it and the rescue and volunteer community care little for such self-serving, disingenuous works of fiction. When Priscilla Feral, head of the Connecticut-based animal rights group Friends of Animals, told attendees that things in New York City weren’t so bad, that the leadership of ACC (Bank) and Mayor’s Alliance (Jane Hoffman) should be embraced, and that people should stop criticizing and start volunteering, the 175 New Yorkers in attendance drowned her out. They “explained” (that is New York speak for stating in no uncertain terms in a tone designed to confer seriousness) that they do volunteer, but are prevented from helping many animals and are banned if they try to improve conditions. They explained that they rescue animals, but have to pay thousands of dollars because the animals get sick at the facility as a result of filth and being forced to languish with little care to the point that some of them do not survive. They explained that they have tried working with the leadership of those organizations, only to find them petty, vindictive, and hostile to their efforts. They let Ms. Feral know that simply because she found Bank and Hoffman “delightful” dinner guests is no reason to ignore the abuse and killing that goes on at ACC with their full knowledge and, in the case of Bank, consent. They told her that simply because she found Bank and Hoffman “nice” during a shared meal does not give her credibility to stand before a room of hard-working, dedicated animal rescuers who have suffered for years and who have watched animals suffer under their disastrous leadership, that Bank and Hoffman are the real victims, that animal advocates are the problem for criticizing them, and that they are the ones that need to change. Sadly, once again, companion animals were betrayed by a group who claims it won’t compromise its “ethics” when it comes to wolves, deer, chickens, or cows, but holds an entirely different standard when it comes to dogs and cats, and their most basic and fundamental right to live. But New Yorkers were having none of it.

The claims by Friends of Animals were more than foolish naivety. They were heartless, designed to wound people who have bled for the animal victims of ACC’s daily neglect and abuse. Day in and day out, these rescuers show tremendous courage and compassion—visiting what is often the one place on earth hardest for them to go as animal lovers: their local shelter. And yet they go back, again and again. They endure the hostile treatment. They endure the heartbreak of seeing the animals destined for the needle. They endure having to jump through unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles set by shelter directors who are holding the animals they want to save hostage. They endure having to look the other way at abuse of other animals, because if they don’t, if they speak out, they will be barred from saving any animals. And Friends of Animals had the audacity to tell them to shut up, to toe the line, and to work with those who perpetuate these conditions. But New Yorkers said “No” in no uncertain terms and I love them for it.

I loved the City when I lived and worked in Ithaca, New York and visited frequently. I loved the City when I visited it every year since I left. And now I love the City even more. New Yorkers were not willing to play games, mince words, or engage in the false promise of collaboration for collaboration’s sake. They were not willing to engage in an empty display of decorum in order to get through an awkward moment. They’ve been there and done that and the time for empty gestures and excusing complacency was over. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a beautiful sight, the united chorus of hundreds of animal lovers speaking truth to power. I was witnessing the No Kill movement all grown up. No more talk of collaboration with people who refuse to collaborate. No more talk about all of us wanting the same things when the evidence proves otherwise. No more talk of empty gestures and grand pronouncements of No Kill by some date whose deadlines come and go without success. Are you listening Maddie’s Fund?

The message was clear: New York City officials—and, I might add, their enablers at the ASPCA, Mayor’s Alliance, and Maddie’s Fund—have not only failed to deliver, but conspired to keep the movement shrouded in darkness. Not only was that the conclusion of attendees, it was the conclusion of all the other speakers: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who condemned the atrocities at ACC in the strongest possible terms, Assembly Member Micah Kellner and Linda Rosenthal who echoed the sentiment, and, of course, me. But, more importantly, it was the conclusion of 175 animal lovers who have come too far and have seen too much to believe otherwise.

Normally, when I go into a community, I talk about the history of No Kill. I start with the great Henry Bergh who founded the ASPCA, and who would be deeply hurt at what it has become. I discuss the “Great Experiment in Compassion” that occurred in San Francisco which pioneered most of the programs that create No Kill communities. I discuss the creation of the nation’s first No Kill community in Tompkins County, New York, over 10 years ago and how it came about. And I explain why the 19th Century model of animal control of “adopt some and kill the rest” which still reigns in too many communities across the U.S.—including New York City—is not appropriate in 21st Century America.

But I did not do that. The people there know clearly where the problem lies and who is to blame for it. We were in New York City:

  • Home to the wealthiest animal protection organizations in the nation: The ASPCA which takes in over $140,000,000 per year, The Humane Society of the United States which has an office there and takes in over $130,000,000 a year, Best Friends Animal Society which also has an office in NYC and takes in over $40,000,000 a year, and of course, the Mayor’s Alliance, the beneficiary of Maddie’s Fund largesse, which has taken in over $20,000,000;
  • Home to the single, largest adoption market in the nation;
  • The center of the nation’s wealth;
  • A community with a shelter per capita intake rate that is a fraction of the national average (1/8 that of communities which are No Kill).

But in a city where the animals should have everything going for them, they have this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And still this:

The nation’s most cosmopolitan, sophisticated, wealthy, and animal loving city in the nation has a barbaric, regressive pound that can only be described one way: Medieval. And it is medieval by design. Medieval by mandate of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (and before him, Rudy Giuliani), Thomas Farley, the Health Commissioner, and Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn. In the end, the buck stops with them. Julie Bank is a creature, the Frankenstein monster who certainly deserves our wrath and condemnation, but who, as one commentator so forthrightly put, is merely the patsy brought on to toe the party line and, if need be, to take the fall for them.

And then we talked about how to change that. Not by the empty promise of collaboration that has never created a single, No Kill community and which has led to 11 years of failure from Maddie’s Fund despite over $100,000,000 in expenditures, but by learning from history. By not only speaking truth to power, but by becoming the power; by fighting and becoming a political force.

In short, by engaging not only in politics 101—personal relationships, campaigning, and lobbying—which is what the Mayor’s Alliance and ASPCA have done to enforce their own will at the expense of the animals; but by also engaging in what I call Politics 102.

The Mayor and the City Council Speaker are champions of the downtrodden, when the cameras are there. How do we know this? They take photographs of it, lots and lots of photographs.

But when it comes to the downtrodden in shelters; when ACC systematically neglects, abuses, and kills animals; when Bank threatens to fire volunteers and even sue people; when the New York Times isn’t there with a photographer, the concern doesn’t exist. The smiles disappear. The flag waving stops. The clapping ceases. And the heart hardens.

We need to take the neglect and abuse out of the shadows and into the light. To make the systematic neglect, abuse, and killing they both condone and perpetuate an issue at all of their photo ops and one which will not go away. In short, we need to bring the fight to them.

The current ACC director has a history of killing, a history of poor care of animals, and a history of hostile relationships with rescuers and volunteers. That was true in Maricopa County, AZ where she was part of the team that drove the agency into financial ruin while lying to the community about its alleged success. That was also true in Escondido, California as well. And it is true in New York City. The current Mayor has chronically underfunded ACC and has appointed and retained cronies who look the other way at the neglect, abuse, and killing. The Health Commissioner who controls the ACC Board ignores—indeed is the cause—of immense suffering of animals. And the Speaker of the City Council has shown herself to be a two-faced, duplicitous politician who will betray the animals and stab animal loving New Yorkers in the back in order to promote herself as the heir-apparent to the small-minded, hard-hearted Bloomberg.

When people show you who and what they are over and over and over and over again, we must believe them. And we must respond accordingly, elevating experience above hope, reality above foolish sentimentality. The time for campaign promises by politicians, empty gestures by bureaucrats, misleading, glossy reports from Maddie’s Fund, and empty talk of collaboration by Friends of Animals is over. We fight. Because when we don’t, the animals pay the ultimate price.

For further reading:

The Banality of Evil