Waiting for Superman

We believe in the importance of transparency and the open sharing of accurate, complete animal-sheltering data and statistics in a manner which is clear to both the animal welfare community and the public. –Asilomar Accords, Guiding Principles, written by Maddie’s Fund and signed by the ASPCA and others.

In light of the tragedy surrounding the cruel death of a suffering kitten this week; it was tempting to believe New York City’s pound system could not get any worse. It is about to. Julie Bank, the regressive director, has taken away the volunteers’ access to Chameleon, the shelter management software database of animals. The access to that information is essential for the animals facing death so that rescuers can try to save them or put out public pleas through their social networks in hopes of getting someone to adopt them.

In addition, as Bank continues eroding the volunteer program and firing those who speak out or complain about neglect and cruelty in her care, the eyes and ears of the animals are going dark. No longer will volunteers know who is in the system. No longer will they know why the animals are there, whether they need medical care and if they are getting that care, or even what happened to them when they are gone. All they will know is what Julie Bank tells them. And given her history of lying, given that she has made a career through fraudulent misrepresentation of conditions in her previous stints as a director, the truth has just become a casualty.

The only thing that forced them to make some effort, that modified their desire to trample completely the principles of compassion and decency, was the court of public opinion. As long as they couldn’t hide the suffering they inflicted, as long as the information made its way to the public, as long as the revelations of animals being killed, of sick animals going without pain relief and basic medical care, of hungry kittens hovering around empty food bowls, there was hope. “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” Animal lovers in NYC are now effectively blind.

The animals of New York City need a champion. They won’t find it in Ed Sayres of the ASPCA, one of their most ardent foes. They won’t find it in Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, an accomplice to the abuse who not only looks the other way, but fights legislative efforts to reform the system that condones, even perpetuates the killing. And they won’t find it in the great Mayor himself Michael Bloomberg, a callous, hard-hearted individual. Will they find it in David Duffield of Maddie’s Fund?

Maddie’s Fund claims that all its grantee communities must honor its “core values of honesty, integrity and mutual respect.” It claims a commitment to transparency. When it wrote and signed the ill-fated Asilomar Accords, it went far to sacrificing some of those values, but in its defense it claimed it had to compromise in order to get buy in from the regressive groups at the table, such as the National Animal Control Association, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States. For several years, all those core values have been on life-support in New York City without a word from Maddie’s Fund leadership. In fact, quite to the contrary, they have continued to defend the Mayor’s Alliance against any criticism, lashing out at animal lovers who took them at their word about honesty, integrity, mutual respect, and transparency.   Transparency is now dead. And as long as that is allowed to continue, there is little hope for the animals. Where there is no insight, where there is no cleansing light of public accountability, the animals perish.

In my blog “Losing My Religion,” I wrote that,

David Duffield may have started Maddie’s Fund in memory of his little dog, but the rescuers and activists working to reform our nation’s broken animal sheltering system also do so in the name of those animals that likewise touched their hearts as Maddie touched his. What they don’t have is $200 million dollars to honor them.


So, instead, in their name, and in the name of the four million animals needlessly killed in our nation’s shelters every year, they battle insurmountable odds. They endure the heartbreak of witnessing abuse and cruelty and killing at their local shelters. They endure hostile and abusive treatment by shelter employees and directors who undermine and fight their lifesaving efforts every single day; efforts at collaboration and cooperation that fall on deaf, defiant ears. And Maddie’s Fund is financing the person that worked to (successfully) kill a law that would have empowered them, would have saved the lives of tens of thousands of animals, and given that they bankroll her, it was within their power to make her stop. But they didn’t.


More than that, they continue to shield her from any criticism and accuse those who do of “bash and trash.” They even champion the New York City shelter system that is rife with neglect and cruelty, a system which violates the constitutional rights of volunteers by threatening to fire them if they try to help the animals by exposing inhumane conditions to the public, as a national model, protecting and legitimizing that which causes harm. This cannot be the will of David Duffield. I don’t believe this is what he intended.

I am not so sure anymore. Despite all the exposes, despite the pain, despite the immense suffering, despite the lies of the Mayor’s Alliance, despite the defense of killing and the sabotaging of legislative reforms to curtail it, he has been deafeningly silent.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a volunteer at NYCACC. “She” asked if “she “should go public with what “she” sees and get banned as a volunteer or continue to look the other way at neglect and suffering in order to continue at least helping some of the animals. A “Sophie’s Choice.” And one I could not answer. At great personal and emotional cost, but out of great love and compassion, “she” and others like “her” spend their days at a place where they are often not wanted and in fact mistreated, a place that is the hardest for them to go because they care so much: a regressive pound where they are forced to watch animals neglected, abused, suffer, and be killed.

Ebony was one of those animals. She was scheduled to be killed in New York City’s pound, right down the street from the richest SPCA (the ASPCA) in the nation which last year took in over $100,000,000, despite the Mayor’s Alliance receiving over $20,000,000 in Maddie’s Fund grants, despite the largest adopter pool in the U.S. (8,000,000), and despite a per capita intake rate 1/7th that of the No Kill Washoe County (Reno), NV. And while she waited for her death, she was kept in the filthiest conditions possible. Rescuers called the “rescue line” offering to save her life, but their telephone calls went unanswered. Despite the fact that they were ready, willing, and able to save her, no one answered the rescue line because no one is held accountable when they don’t. Ebony was killed, even though she had a place to go. And not a word from Maddie’s Fund.

The above kitten was also one of those animals. She was forced to suffer and die, when the most minimal of care would have saved her. And not a word from Maddie’s Fund.

They continue to lie on their website by claiming “New York reached a major milestone in 2009 with an adoption guarantee for all healthy shelter pets” even though staff at ACC admit they kill healthy animals, even though we have proof they kill healthy animals, even though ACC intentionally misclassifies healthy animals by claiming they are sick, even though they put healthy animals in sick wards in order to make them sick so they could kill them with impunity.

For over ten years, we’ve listened to the Maddie’s Fund bravado about “revolutionizing the status of companion animals” despite their complete and utter failure to create even a single No Kill community, let alone a No Kill nation which they have promised three times now. We no longer want to hear it. We’ll do it ourselves and, in fact, we are doing it, without their millions.

Our plea to Maddie’s Fund is now much more plebeian. We know Maddie’s Fund won’t save them. We know the ASPCA won’t save them. We know that the City pound won’t save them. We just want the information so that we can. Rescuers need access to the database. Is that asking too much from the mighty David Duffield?

With control over the purse strings comes the influence and power to help us. David Duffield entered the No Kill movement saying he wanted to help animals, even as the Foundation he started to national fanfare and worldwide acclaim has instead become a force that defends and protects the status quo in New York City. If this isn’t what he wants, in the name of decency, he needs to stand up and act. Now.

This is his last chance to make it right.