Articles ASPCA

The Company Man

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When Ed Sayres resigned from his $550,000 a year job as CEO of the ASPCA, I wrote ASPCA Board Chair Tim Wray and urged him not to hire yet another in a long line of empty suits. Specifically, I wrote,

The outgoing President of the organization you oversee, the ASPCA, leaves in his wake a legacy of controversy and betrayal. His tenure is marked by  his heartless killing of Oreo  and other animals who rescuers offered to save,  his defeat of rescue rights laws  in New York while championing laws that eviscerated shelter holding periods, of  releasing manuals which sought to educate shelter directors about how to fight No Kill reform efforts  (efforts that were characterized as essentially acts of terrorism), of  promoting sham shelter “reform” programs which exacerbated rather than lessened shelter killing, of an animal cruelty investigation division  which failed to do its job thereby leaving abused and suffering New York City animals to die, of  funding operations that raise animals to be slaughtered for food, and of defending the cruel and abusive New York city pound. In short, Ed Sayres lack of philosophical commitment to the cause which he was entrusted to represent is evident in his tragic legacy, and can best be summed up in the statement he made to the most widely read newspaper in America,  USA Today. In 2007, he was quoted as having said, “There is no room for No Kill as morally superior,” equating the needless killing of four million animals a year as the ethical equivalent of a movement which actually saves their lives.

After setting out how the ASPCA could truly be a leader in areas ranging from companion animals to wild animals to animal raised for food, I closed with a plea,

The possibilities are breathtaking, so I urge you not to do what the ASPCA Board has always done when choosing the next President of the ASPCA: do not elevate form over function. Do not choose someone who represents the lowest common denominator, but rather embrace a person of commitment and integrity who will rally the nation with the highest of aspirations. Do not take this decision lightly, but give it a consideration that is equal to its vast potential to help those who are now not only so horribly abused, but so misrepresented by those who are supposed to speak on their behalf as well. By making the right choice, the Board of Directors could not only breathe new and authentic life into the ASPCA motto, “We Are Their Voice,” the ASPCA would be given power to transform our country. The tenure of the next President of the ASPCA could be historic, a before-and-after moment in the cause of animal protection.


Given the vast, untapped potential that exists to help animals through the ASPCA; given how much the ASPCA could positively affect American society on behalf of animals in truly profound and lasting ways; and given the gravity of what is potentially at stake, I urge you not to pick yet another, in a long line, of empty suits.


The animals deserve better.

They won’t get better. Yesterday, the ASPCA put out a press release saying,

The ASPCA … announced that it has named Matthew E. Bershadker President and CEO. Mr. Bershadker is a 12-year veteran of the ASPCA, serving most recently as Senior Vice President of the Anti-Cruelty Group (ACG). Mr. Bershadker will assume the position June 1, succeeding Edwin Sayres, President and CEO since 2003.


Under Mr. Bershadker’s leadership, the ASPCA has risen to new heights in its response to cruelty and natural disasters. The Anti-Cruelty Group evolved from a fledgling team of responders to a robust, national program that confronts animal cruelty and suffering on all levels across the country. Mr. Bershadker helped form the Field Investigations & Response team to provide skilled support to state and federal agencies during large-scale puppy mill busts, dog fighting raids, animal hoarding cases, and other instances of animal cruelty as well as natural disasters such as the Joplin, Mo. tornado and Superstorm Sandy. The team has investigated hundreds of cases around the country. Last year, the ASPCA played a leadership role in the removal of 50 dogs from a Bronx dog fighting ring. Most recently, the ASPCA assisted federal and state authorities in the removal of nearly 100 dogs from a multi-state dog fighting ring.


Prior to leading the Anti-Cruelty Group, Mr. Bershadker served as Vice President of the ASPCA’s Development department, where he was responsible for creating fundraising strategy and implementing tactics for major gifts, planned giving, special events, capital campaign, and corporate and foundation grants.

In short, they hired a company man. When animal lovers emailed about Sayre’s war on animal lovers throughout his tenure, Wray defended his then-CEO saying that Sayres helped increase fundraising during his leadership to nearly $150,000,000 a year. To Wray, a money manager himself, profits appeared to define success, irrespective of how many animals were sent to the pound to be killed, how many animals were left to starve in the city, how much the ASPCA sided with cruel and abusive shelters.

The new CEO “was responsible for creating fundraising strategy and implementing tactics for major gifts, planned giving, special events, capital campaign, and corporate and foundation grants,” according to Wray, and therefore, he is qualified, period.

The ASPCA Board, however, claims they really hired him for his “success” at overseeing the Anti-Cruelty Group. Of course, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s famous line, “it all depends upon what your definition of ‘success’ is.” In this case, failure is the new success.

The ASPCA allowed dogs to starve to death all over New York City. According to a Channel 11 expose,

Dogs, cats and other animals are suffering and even dying needlessly all over New York City, and the culprit behind their hurt, according to PIX11 News sources, is the management of an organization that’s supposed to be helping animals.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported receiving $122 million in donations last year in its cause to prevent animal cruelty, but some whistleblowers told PIX11 News that the ASPCA is preventing its own animal cruelty investigators from doing their jobs.

The incompetence has had fatal consequences:

An HLE case file obtained by PIX11 News features some very disturbing images. They are about a half dozen photographs that a responding HLE investigator was required to take of a pit bull mix that was so severely emaciated and badly neglected that it died. The case file clearly points out in its narrative, “This case is 2 weeks old,” too long after the ASPCA received an anonymous complaint about the starved dog for HLE officers to step in and save the dog’s life:


That case is by no means isolated. PIX11 also obtained other case reports in which dogs were dead by the time investigators were finally given the case files for the called-in complaints. In one case, the investigator wasn’t able to respond to the complaint until seven days after it was called in. In another, the complaint wasn’t followed up for two-and-a-half months.

The ASPCA Press Release announcing the promotion said it was Bershadker’s job “to help protect companion animals that are in danger of potential abuse or neglect.” In the case of animals in the ASPCA’s own backyard, they failed to do so. The anti-cruelty department has also been rocked with allegations of perjury. And when the ASPCA itself was accused in a federal lawsuit of abuse  claiming an ASPCA employee, with an alleged history of abuse, kicked to death a man’s dog who was being treated at the ASPCA veterinary hospital, the ASPCA did not admit wrongdoing. ASPCA humane law enforcement agents did not swing into action. Instead, the ASPCA covered up the abuse. It is not clear whether he was in charge of that department at the time, but he was in management and there is little reason to believe the results would have been different. Bershadker’s team routinely looked the other way at horrific neglect and abuse at the New York City pound, continuing to send animals to be abused and killed there, while the ASPCA defended the pound to the animals’ detriment.

According to a lawsuit in federal court, the ASPCA abusively killed this man’s dog and then covered it up.

Finally, Wray lauds Bershadker for his oversight of ASPCA rescues around the country, including during Superstorm Sandy. But what happened to many of the animals “rescued” by Bershadker’s group? After the photo-ops and after the fundraising appeals went out, they were sent to kill shelters. Even if these shelters did not kill any of the ASPCA animals, a dubious proposition in itself, they likely killed local animals to make room. Either way, animals needlessly lost their lives because an agency with annual revenues of nearly 150 million dollars, its own shelter in New York City, and access to the single largest adoption market in the nation didn’t care what happened to the animals once the money people donated was safely deposited in the bank.

Of course, Bershadker promises to take the ASPCA to the “next level.” And animal lovers want to believe, want to be wrong about him, want to hold out hope that he was just biding his time until he could take control and lead the ASPCA in a new direction: just like they wanted to believe when another company man, long-time PR spinmaster and HSUS lobbyist Wayne Pacelle was promoted to CEO of that organization. When he took over HSUS after ten years there, Pacelle also promised a new, improved HSUS. Specifically,  he stated that HSUS,

[W]ill honor the highest ethical standards in pursuing our mission, working within the system to advance our objectives. At the same time, we will strive to be nimble, hard-hitting, and aggressive, seizing opportunities as they arise and pushing ahead in a determined way with our proactive agenda. We exist to change the status quo and to change social norms. As such, confrontation and controversy are not to be feared; instead, they are logical consequences of meaningful and effective action.

Instead, they got more of the same: more killing, more support of killing, and a defense of neglect and abuse of animals, so long as the neglect and abuse occurred in shelters. In other words, like Pacelle before him, there is little reason to elevate hope above experience with Bershadker. When someone shows you who they are and what they represent over and over again, believe them.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Learn more:

The ASPCA Allows Dogs to Starve to Death

In the Arms of the Angel of Death

No More Empty Suits


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