A Quick Word About The Latest Disease Outbreak in NYC Animal Shelters

Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 8.10.48 PMI know, I know, the blog is supposed to be closed and all, but I’d like to put this in the public record.

There have been a fresh round of articles about the latest outbreak of disease in the NYC shelter facilities, this outbreak getting special attention because a virus jumped species, from a cat to a person. Here’s the latest on the subject from the New York Times. Reporters seem to be shocked that this could have happened. Many New York City animal rescuers are not.

Who could have guessed that operating a constantly disease-ridden facility would risk both animal and human health and welfare… other than most of the NYC rescue community? We’ve talked privately about the possibility of something like this for years, never wanting to bring it out into the open for fear of impacting adoptions.

Thank goodness this isn’t the worst case scenario: that would be something that more easily makes the jump to humans and causes more serious illness, like swine flu – or worse.

Will the NYC Department of HEALTH, which oversees the contract of Animal Care Centers and owns the buildings they use that are the root of the problem, finally get serious about animal health to control the possibility of future calamity? Or will we wait to breed something entirely new? A drug-resistant bacteria, perhaps.

So many articles on this subject. Not one connecting the dots. The DOH, ACC and animal rescuers have all known for years that this was the risk they were taking.

Will they fix it?

Don’t hold your breath.

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On Hiatus


On hiatus, all comments are closed. Site is left here for archival and research purposes.

Please be very careful about assuming anything from articles more than a few months old are still applicable. Things move fast.

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Princessa Seeks Villa near NYC!

IMG_5659I knew it would happen eventually – if you rescue cats for long enough, you will eventually rescue one who is FIV or FeLV positive. FIV doesn’t bother me – if they’re not fighters, they should be able to live with other cats well enough. FeLV is a bit different. It’s a retrovirus that is transmitted from cat to cat through bodily fluids fairly easily. FeLV cats should really only live alone or with other FeLV positive cats. Though the virus can cause illness, many cats who test positive for FeLV live long and happy lives without ever showing active symptoms. FeLV affects cats only and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets.

I rescued Princessa from an apartment here in the Bronx where her owner was moving the next day, discovering that she was FeLV positive when she went in to be spayed – she is asymptomatic. What I had always assumed I would do would be to seek sanctuary with an organization devoted to FeLV cats, as there are a number of reputable ones nearby. But I can’t do that.

IMG_5958Princessa is simply one of the nicest, sweetest, most people-friendly cats I have ever rescued. She is extremely affectionate, curious, and confident. At our trips to the vet she walks right out of her carrier, approaches everyone, gives them head bonks and solicits petting. She loves to play. She is so very easy to handle and has never once made an attempt to scratch or bite me, even when I flip her over on her back to rub her tummy. She gets along with cats too, and used to live with another cat (who has since tested negative). She is around two years old and has striking coloring. She’s a pretty spectacular cat, and I really want to see her in a home of her own. She loves people so much, I have to give this a try for her.

If you have a place in your heart for a cat who is a little different, a little special, please email me with any questions you have. I am willing to drive any reasonable distance in the New York City area for her to meet an interested adopter. She will steal your heart as she stole mine.

Posted in Cats, Foster Cats, New York City, South Bronx | Leave a comment

Help Prohibit Breed Discrimination in Housing in New York State

23dogs650New York State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski has introduced a bill that would prohibit breed discrimination in rental housing in New York State. While various media outlets have reported that it would end breed discrimination in New York City public housing (which is true) the bill is so much broader than than and would prohibit breed discrimination in all rental housing in New York State. This bill appears to have solid support among Assembly members.

Please call and/or email the office of your New York State Assembly Member and ask them to support bill A02065 that prohibits breed discrimination in housing, then call and/or email your New York State Senate representative and tell them you support the Senate version of the bill, S05944.

Legislation like this is an incredibly important step toward a world where every dog is judged as an individual. Please contact your representatives today.

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NYCACC Announces Upcoming Board Meeting – June 9, 10:30AM

The next Board Meeting of New York City Animal Care Centers will be held on Thursday, June 9 at 10:30AM in lower Manhattan.

These meetings are key to understanding the workings of NYCACC and the only chance the public has to address the board in person.

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Stop Paying Shelters For Excuses

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton gave a surprise press conference today to announce that the NYPD was giving up on enforcing the law. “There are just too many criminals, there’s nothing we can do,” said NYC’s Top Cop. “The truth is, we’ll never solve New York City’s crime problem until we address the roots: education, mental illness, homelessness, poverty. Without complete success combatting those issues, what’s the point?”

Would you ever see this happen? You would not. (And to be absolutely clear: the quote is made up, and satiric.) Law enforcement is the job of the police. It is what they are there for. It is why they exist. A police chief or commissioner who gave this statement to the press would be removed from office before the ink on the newspaper had dried. (Showing my age there a bit…)

And yet, conditioned by a long history of mostly failure – a tide that has only recently begun to turn – there is a tendency to buy in when shelters do it, which they do constantly in media outlets all over the country. We know that’s an excuse, of course, we have municipal shelters in this country saving 97% and even higher. So is there any reason to maintain this innate expectation of failure, to continually let taxpayer-funded agencies off the hook for the job they’re paid to do? There is not.

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The next time you see a statement like this one from New York City’s Animal Care Centers placing blame on “the real issues” rather than taking responsibility for the job they have been hired to do, I want you to imagine the equivalent statement from your area’s top law enforcement official where they list all the reasons they can’t get the job done and how ridiculous that statement would be, and I want you to keep in mind one thing: If you can’t do the job, why are you there?

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No Kill In New York City

Definition-610x250One thing opponents of No Kill love to do is try to twist the definition of the term, so a quick and easy note to get us all on the same page. If you’d like a longer answer you can read Redemption and everything published since.

The term first must be used in a context of honesty by reclaiming the true definition of “euthanasia” and “kill”. Many shelters have adopted a twisted version of the definition of “euthanasia”, turning it from a release of suffering to a term applied to the death of any animal they find inconvenient. It is no wonder, in this context, that the term No Kill is clearly understood by most of the public but so often misunderstood (or intentionally twisted) by shelter professionals. So the first step is the understanding that causing the death of animals who are not suffering irredeemably is killing and applying your language appropriately. You can’t get to No Kill without the admission that you’re currently killing.

No Kill is the effort and practice of saving every healthy and treatable animal who passes through your doors. The sole exception, at this point, is dogs who are irredeemably violent for the obvious purpose of public safety, and we learn more about ways in which to help them every day. Euthanasia, of course, is permitted – but actual euthanasia of the kind that would be chosen by a caring owner, a merciful act in an effort to end irredeemable suffering – not, as so many shelters use the term, a death of convenience. No Kill is the commitment to save animals like him, infected with in-shelter disease, and her with a broken leg.

In the past a save rate of 90% was considered “shorthand” for No Kill achievement, when that number was arrived at in the 1990s it was theorized that about 10% of shelter animals would prove unhealthy and untreatable. While that number is still used by many as a guideline, we now know that higher sustained save rates are possible as more No Kill shelters blaze the trail, even in open-admission municipal shelters, some of whom have sustained save rates of 95% or higher.

So that’s what we’re talking about.

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NYCACC Says They Will Never Be No Kill: “There Is Actually No Such Thing”

I’ve been pretty bullish on New York City Animal Care Centers (NYCACC) lately. No secret, there have been some great improvements.

I thought we were finally on the same page. I thought we were working towards a common goal, a New York City where no healthy or treatable animal was ever killed in a shelter. I thought the announcement of funding for shelters in the Bronx and Queens was an exciting development toward that goal.

Evidently I was wrong.

This recent article in a Queens-based publication is a slap in the face and an insult to every admirer of progressive animal sheltering in New York City and beyond, and signals that NYCACC doesn’t have any plans to stop killing any time soon.

For as long as NYCACC insists that there is no such thing as an open-admission No Kill municipal shelter, I will not call them one. The assertion is an outright lie – you can find a list of communities at or near No Kill status, many led by open-admission municipal shelters, here. New York City is insulting their professional colleagues, and their betters, in their denial of reality. Austin, TX, with an open admission No Kill municipal shelter that has an intake of about 18k per year with a far higher per capita intake than New York and just hit a 97% save rate? Sorry, you don’t exist. Tompkins County, right here in New York State? Screw y’all. Over a hundred others? Meh.

Instead of emulating or learning from the highest performing No Kill open admission municipal shelters in the United States, NYCACC claims they don't exist.

Instead of emulating or learning from the highest performing No Kill open admission municipal shelters in the United States, NYCACC lies and claims they don’t exist. (Image: Austin Animal Center home page.)

If NYC does not think that there is any such thing as a No Kill open-admission municipal shelter, it is very strange that they accepted millions of dollars over a period of nearly a decade as the lead agency within a coalition designed, in part, to turn them into one.

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The No Kill open-admission shelters that DO exist do not make pathetic excuses like this, blaming a straw man for their “need” to kill. They do not blame anyone else for their killing. They make a plan to stop it and inspire their community to help them get it done – the type of leadership we have yet to see NYCACC demonstrate. This should have been a triumphant moment, a statement of how important these two new facilities are to their goal, an chance to inspire their community to help. Instead we get this pathetic display of lies, doublespeak, and killing justification: we can’t, we won’t, and it’s someone else’s fault. New York deserves better than that.

The shelter in NYC did not improve their save rate to date by “cutting out the sources of homeless animals” (Although that would have been helpful!). They did not provide spay/neuter services to the public (they can barely muster the resources to spay/neuter their own animals, sometimes outsourcing the job to the ASPCA). They did not provide or support TNR programs for cats. They did not expand education. (All of which are very good things and would be welcome, by the way – when do they intend to get started?) What they did was focus on being a functional shelter. They opened a department to interface with rescue… that was conceived of and funded by an external organization. They had the brilliant idea, after 17 years of existence, that maybe there should be a department devoted to adoptions. They were gifted with some additional funding, largely achieved through the agitation of outsiders. They begrudgingly accepted funding for more facilities (again, largely achieved through the agitation of outsiders), including the Queens facility that is the subject of this article after years of very publicly insisting that more facilities were unnecessary. Back when ACC was killing far higher numbers of animals and even with the killing they are doing now, “the real issue” was and is their own shortcomings to lead the way and do the job. Even now we see them dragging their feet over the illnesses that run rampant through their facilities, claiming there is nothing more to be done as advocates attempt, once again, to push them along.

It would be nice if they would lead the way to No Kill. Instead, historically, they need to be dragged towards progress. Hassled. Embarrassed. Browbeaten. Coddled. Carrot and sticked. Along the way advocates and outsiders have arranged for so much help – for staffing, for funding, for facilities – and still we are left with a shelter that will not make a public commitment to do their very best for the animals of New York City. Without that commitment, it’s almost time to move on.

Lead the way. Declare that your goal is to make sure that no healthy or treatable animal is ever killed in New York City (aka “No Kill“) instead of downplaying that in hopes of managing expectations. Believe me, most have been conditioned to expect very little of you. Break that mold. Declare the bold plan of how you’re gonna do it. Ask for help. Be transparent. Be inspiring. Inspire others to help you, to believe in you. Do it today.

Lead. We can’t wait much longer.

If this is as far as you can go, as well as you can do, if you’re satisfied with this, if you’re convinced that you can never be No Kill, then you won’t. And that isn’t good enough. Do I expect you to hit your goal tomorrow? No. Do I expect you to try? Goddamnit, yes.

Lead. Or accept our thanks for the progress you’ve made and get out. Let someone else – someone who believes – reach ever-higher for the goal you say is impossible, the goal that so many other cities are so much closer to, the goal that you are lying about when you say they do not exist.

We accept nothing less. We deserve nothing less. They deserve nothing less.

Lead. Or leave.

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The Fall of Bill de Blasio and the Future of NYC Shelters

The writing is on the wall; NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is pretty much done for. He’s now the subject of multiple federal investigations for various types of improper financial relations (including with NYCLASS, who have recently been subpoenaed.) It’s too much to cover here, frankly – the scandal(s) widen on an hour-by-hour basis.

Barring some minor miracle, it seems the Mayor is done for. Should he manage to serve the rest of his term, he will be powerless and friendless, his political capital gone.

Very recently the Mayor’s budget included funding for, among other projects, two desperately needed new shelter facilities and the expansion and/or repair of two more. But if de Blasio falls from power, as I expect he will, that funding may be in jeopardy: it is easy to strip funding from projects that are only in their initial phases. It will be of utmost importance that citizens of New York City make their next mayor someone who believes in those projects.

Keep an eye on developments, and keep an eye on Scott Stringer, Tish James, and Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Posted in New York City, NYCACC, Politics, Scott Stringer | Leave a comment

NYCACC News: A Phone System, Petco Foundation Donation, Resignation of Medical Director

Some random news from Animal Care Centers of New York City (NYCACC)…

After years without one, the shelter system finally has a publicly accessible phone number again: 212-788-4000. Although the phone tree is rather byzantine at the moment and many options lead to recorded information, it is in fact possible to use the system to speak to a human being, which is a positive development.

downloadThe shelter was the recent recipient of a $500,000 donation from the Petco Foundation, it is my understanding that the funding is earmarked for animal enrichment, mostly in the form of hiring staff. This is awesome in pretty much every way; just a few years ago the idea that anyone would give the shelter $500k was unfathomable. It is wonderful that the shelter is beginning to be able to attract large donations; this is the kind of fundraising power that hopefully will eventually give them greater independence from City of New York funding. A huge thanks to the Petco Foundation for this gift.

Finally, internal sources confirm that Medical Director Dr. Lisa Hara Levin has tendered her resignation from the shelter. After a rocky start I was bullish on Dr. Levin and her initial plans were very impressive, but it became clear to me before long that she had been sidelined for unknown reasons. We haven’t had a presentation from her at the board meetings in quite some time, which is odd when disease is such a problem in the shelters. Still, Dr. Levin deserves an enormous amount of credit: she took on a thankless job at a time when very few would even consider it and undeniably moved the ball forward. New York owes her a debt of gratitude.

This is actually a fairly positive development – with such huge recent improvement in lifesaving, reputation and funding NYCACC is in a better place than ever before to attract a top-tier candidate who can tackle some of the fundamental issues the shelter faces: not just the internal spread of communicable disease but the basic standard of care that, while improved, still seems to be lacking. This is difficult to quantify in the absence of hard data/statistics, but there are certainly no shortage of anecdotes emerging from the shelter of misdiagnosis and mistreatment. The arrival of some fresh blood may bring new energy to tackle these problems and I believe this opening creates an excellent opportunity.

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