NYCACC Board Meeting

I wasn’t able to attend the most recent NYCACC board meeting. Fortunately, the meeting was posted on YouTube for the first time and the presentation slides are online as well, so anyone can follow along at home.

I’m not going to do an in-depth analysis right now but I did want to note two particular slides in the presentation.

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These are the “shock and awe” slides that AC&C uses to communicate the enormity of the job at hand, but they only tell a small part of the story. What isn’t communicated here is that a large number of these animals are already leaving alive, particularly courtesy of the shelters’ New Hope partners who do the lion’s share of actually adopting out AC&C animals. The more useful data is to look at the number of animals who aren’t making it out.

Here are the statistics for May of 2014, the most recent available:

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So here’s another way to phrase the problem: AC&C remains pathetically bad at adoptions. In the month of May they did an average of slightly over 5 adoptions per day per location in the largest, densest adoptions market in the nation.

In the month of May 383 animals lost their lives at AC&C. That is slightly over four per day per location, so if AC&C could adopt out an additional four animals per day per location they could have had zero euthanasias for the month.

That assumes that zero euthanasias are possible, which is likely not true – there will always be behavioral and health euthanasias, so let’s assume a generous 90% save rate target. At 2821 intake for the month, dropping euthanasia to approximately 282 would get them to a 90% save rate. In order to drop euthanasias to that number they would need to save an additional 101 animals… or an average of one more adoption per day per location.

Shock and awe indeed.

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Redemption – The Film – Comes to NYC on July 16

There are a handful of books that have really shaped my world. William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life. Tom Collins’ Good to Great. But the book that has probably impacted my life the most, especially my relationship to animals, is Nathan Winograd’s Redemption, a book that shook the animal protection movement to its core and continues to reverberate today in every animal shelter and every animal protection organization in this country and many others. It is a work that I and others found tremendously inspiring as well as practical – a movieposterwebhistory of the animal protection movement in the United States, where it has lost its way, and how to fix it; a story about believing in the community and in the power of human compassion.

Redemption has now been made into a film, and its exclusive engagement in New York City will be at 6pm on Wednesday, July 16. Following the film there will be a reception with a Q&A and book signing by Nathan Winograd.

This is not an evening of depression, but of inspiration and hope, compassion and redemption. Find out where we’ve been. Find out where we’re going. Join us at the New York City screening of Redemption on July 16.

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Baron

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Baron
1999 – 2014

“To call him a dog hardly seems to do him justice,
though inasmuch as he had four legs, a tail, and barked,
I admit he was, to all outward appearances. But to those who
knew him well, he was a perfect gentleman.”
-Hermione Gingold

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NYCACC Schedules Board Meeting for Thursday, June 19

The next board meeting of New York City Animal Care and Control will be held on Thursday, June 19 at 10:30AM at 125 Worth Street in Manhattan. If you have any interest in animal issues in New York City attendance at these meetings is extremely educational – and at this one I hope to learn if the new Medical Director’s presence is paying off. See you there!

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New York: A No Kill City for Just One Day

justonedayJune 11, 2014 is Just One Day in New York City and across the country – a day when animal shelters across the nation pledge to not kill any animals in their care and showcase their efforts to reach out to the public and involve them in saving shelter animals – a trial run of No Kill, if you will, an exploration of what is possible. It is also, by extension, a day of cooperation between shelter systems and rescue groups; a day to lay down one’s rhetorical and metaphorical swords and focus on saving as many animals as possible – together.

Historically there has been participation in this yearly event in the New York City area from rescue groups; their role has been an effort to clean out the kill lists on Just One Day. This year, they’ll have help.

The newest participant in this national day of No Kill is Animal Care and Control of New York City. On Jun 10 there will be no “at risk” list. On Jun 11, there will be no euthanasias performed, there will be extended adoption hours, there will be greatly reduced adoption fees, there will be outreach in the form of an adoptions vehicle going to a major urban center, and there will be a focus on reaching out to the public and inviting them in – especially through a social media presence that has been growing steadily more engaging.

This is important; to my mind representing an acknowledgement by NYCACC of a direction, a goal: this is where we’re going.

I know it’s very difficult to see this in the middle of kitten season, but NYCACC is actually improving. The April numbers imply a live release rate for the month somewhere on the upper end of the 80th percentile – it’s hard to say exactly where they are as NYCACC still will not provide numbers in the standard Asilomar reporting format – and neither will Maddie’s Fund, who requires NYCACC to produce those numbers but hasn’t made them publicly available since 2011. Both organizations have a lot to say about transparency and I would hope that one or both will soon publish the shelter’s recent numbers soon to fulfill that commitment to transparency. In the fall, when the ASPCA’s recently announced kitten nursery opens, we will hopefully see further improvement statistics even during upcoming kitten season(s).

There will be detractors who say that the commitment to Just One Day doesn’t matter, that animals will simply be moved to another day – but they miss the point. By coupling a suspension of the kill list with a focused effort to get more animals into homes, with adoptions promotions, with extended hours, with more opportunities for animals to leave the shelter – well, I can guarantee you that it won’t be a typical Wednesday.

compromise-imgI am not, historically, what one might call a huge fan of NYCACC. But I do see improvements, I do have hope, and I do believe, strongly, that when there is an opportunity to save animals that opportunity should be exploited and supported.

So participate. Pull on the evening of Monday, Jun 9. Adopt. Spread the word. Let’s get as many animals in homes as we can – together – and someday, in New York City as everywhere else, Just One Day will be every day.

You may read NYCACC’s Just One Day press release here – and if you’re affiliated with a group saving animals in New York, ask them to take the pledge and support the event! ANY group can participate.

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NYCACC: Spring Into… A Glint of Hope?

Well, it’s now been months since any kind of serious update. Rather overdue; doncha think? Let’s get to it.

New York City Animal Care and Control announced the appointment of a new medical director – the first in several years – in early January. They provided scant information on her background, including some things that deserved an explanation. Then, at the quarterly board meeting at the end of January – a meeting that is supposed to be open to the public – much of the public was kept out of the room, long after the meeting had started, while Dr. Levin’s public introduction was made. I’m still not sure what the story is on that but it was certainly an inauspicious start and one that only served to heighten distrust, especially in the face of NYCACC tactics in years past to keep meetings closed to the public. Questions in the public comment part of the meeting went unanswered, particularly those that were resume-related – but notably, a much more detailed (and mostly complete) introduction was released a few days following the meeting.

Then, in early February after that board meeting, something really unexpected happened: Dr. Levin called me. Our conversation lasted approximately 45 minutes and was wide-ranging, encompassing her background and plans for change at NYCACC. Dr. Levin was at times blunt and, I thought, honest about the challenges facing her. My hastily scribbled notes on our conversation headline with “I don’t want to have the at risk list”; no qualifiers.

She addressed a few of my greatest concerns and what I thought was deeply misleading about her initial introduction published by NYCACC: yes, she did begin her career, starting with her postdoctorate work, in animal experimentation. She described to me the evolution of her thinking as she became deeply uneasy with what she was doing and eventually, over time, underwent a complete transformation to an animal protectionist and vegan. This was a long time ago and people change; I cannot see a reason to doubt her. She filled in some gaps in the resume that did not show up in the digital trail, including directorships at some smaller humane societies (though to be fair, compared to NYCACC… most places are smaller).

I came away impressed with Dr. Levin. She’s blunt, unafraid and appropriately wonky for the position (and I truly mean that as a compliment). We ended the conversation agreeing that in the end, results would be all that mattered.

Now let’s fast forward to the latest NYCACC board meeting, held on April 23rd. For what I believe is the first time (?), the slides from that meeting have been made available on NYCACC’s website… as well as notes on board meetings going back to 2011. This is very much a step in the right direction and I commend NYCACC for making it happen. It was also announced in the meeting that future meetings would be archived on video and that video would be made available to the public on the internet – this would be to comply with New York’s Open Meetings Law. This is also tremendously appreciated.

Much of the slideshow is of little note; the meeting was lightly attended by both board members and the general public. There was little statistical difference in the first quarter of 2014 vs the same time period in 2013 with the exception of a small increase in intake that was balanced out through an increase in New Hope placements. (NB: New Hope is the NYCACC department that interfaces with outside rescues.) The slight decrease in public adoption is of some concern given the recent resources that NYCACC has poured into increasing public adoption. For the most part, business as usual. The creation of an intake department is a welcome change (as with the adoptions department, it’s surprising that they’re just getting around to creating that), but most of the rest of it – including an increased focus on disease prevention – are things we’ve heard before. It’s good to see that they now have an adoptions vehicle, it would be nice to see it on the road every day – and one member of the public (I believe Tom Scopac) commented that when it was not in use at events, perhaps it could be stationed at the intake-only NYCACC locations in the Bronx and Queens. Fantastic idea. They’re also getting slightly better at fundraising and much better at PR.

But the real meat of this meeting was in Dr. Levin’s report as the Medical Director. This contained some real improvements in direction, including full time staff veterinary coverage for each shelter, a weekly review of morbidity and mortality with veterinary staff, and a greatly expanded training of staff including non-veterinary staff to act as additional “eyes and ears”. Some very important things that don’t turn up in the slides: Right now every intake exam is done by a Licensed Veterinary Technician, but additional staff (3 more vets) are being hired with the goal of having every intake exam being done by a vet. That’s a great idea and a huge step forward. Dr. Levin also claimed that all spay/neuter surgeries had been brought in-house instead of outsourcing some of them to the ASPCA, and my sources at the ASPCA confirm that. I dearly hope that is an indication of the increased capacity of the department. Until recently NYCACC had been relying heavily on non-staff, per diem vets and it’s an excellent sign to see them transitioning to full time vet staff and the increased stability and accountability that staff will bring.

It’s very important to note that none of this is budging the kill numbers… yet. But this is good groundwork and hopefully a foundation to be built on. NYCACC has a huge challenge now and soon with kitten season upon us, and by the next meeting we should have some idea if these tactics will provide an improvement over the same quarter of last year. I would also hope at some point that there would be a greatly increased focus on making sure that animals on the NYCACC kill list have correct, complete medical notes (as well as behavioral…) as well as an accurate categorization; the kill listing of a cat with, say, a URI as having “major conditions” is beyond silly and the result of political forces, not medical.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.52.35 PMBoard Chair Nolan is not a fan of a favorite expression of mine, “big ships turn slowly” – I might remind him that it took NYCACC something like 17 years to create an adoptions department. I believe, however, that the expression is appropriate here – and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that still suck (Have you tried to call them lately? Good God). I do not yet think we are seeing the catalyst(s) that will take NYCACC on a course to No Kill; I find it hard to believe that will ever happen while NYCACC is under contract to the city’s Department of Health, which has no interest or duty to the welfare of animals (and truthfully will probably be getting in Dr. Levin’s way soon, if they haven’t already), even if they had a staff that believes in or had worked in No Kill communities, which they don’t. Dr. Levin appears, however, to be a step in the right direction, and gives me a bit of hope for the next meeting in a way that was wholly unexpected. I have come to believe that I jumped the gun on her a bit in a way that was unfair, and I apologize.

In the end, results are all that matter. Let’s hope June’s board meeting brings some.

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NYCACC Schedules Board Meeting for Wed, April 23

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted – and there are definitely a few things that could use an update.

An unprecidented thing happened after the last post on NYCACC’s new Medical Director, Dr. Lisa Hara Levin, and the board meeting that followed – she called me. Over the weekend I’ll be writing up some of the details of that conversation.

But first, because I want everyone to have it on their calendars… the details of the next NYCACC board meeting. The following text is taken directly from the ACC website.

AC&C Board of Directors Meeting
Wednesday, April 23 @10:30AM
2nd floor auditorium at 125 Worth Street, NYC

Auditorium doors will open promptly at 10:15 to allow everyone time to find a seat before the presentation begins. Please have your photo ID to gain access into the building.

Agenda
10:30 Quarterly Update
11:15 Medical Update

Dr. Lisa Levin, Medical Director, will provide an update on her first three months with AC&C and discuss plans for the future.

Do you have a question for Dr. Levin that you would like her to address at the meeting? Click here to submit your question. Questions should be submitted by 5pm Monday, April 21st.

Following Board business and time permitting, public comment will be heard within the time remaining for the Board meeting. During the time set aside for public comments the Board and/or Executive Director will try to address specific questions or topics that fall within their purview. Individuals who wish to provide public comment must sign in prior to the commencement of the Board Meeting. The public comment sign in sheet will be available in the vestibule outside the auditorium at 10:15AM. Individuals will be called based on the order of this sign in sheet. In making a request to provide public comment, individuals must give their names and their title or affiliation. Substitute speakers will not be permitted.

The Board Chairman will introduce each speaker who will have two (2) minutes to present comments. This will be strictly adhered to with the assistance of a timekeeper. Time cannot be donated from one speaker to another. Public comment will be received until the scheduled end of the Board meeting.

Anyone who does not have an opportunity to speak during the public comment period or does not want to speak publicly may submit their questions or comments to info@nycacc.org or place written comments in the comment/suggestion box available in the vestibule outside the auditorium on the day of the meeting. AC&C will respond to your comments by email if appropriate.

Speakers needing any disability related or language accommodation should contact AC&C at info@nycacc.org, at least three (3) days in advance. This includes requests for a sign language translator.

If you’re planning on attending the meeting, please consider bringing a donation of any of the following:

FOR CATS:
Kitten Milk Replacement
Mylar Crinkle Cat Toys
Plastic Lattice Balls
Fuzzy Mice
Pipe Cleaners

FOR DOGS:
Boingo Balls – Large & Small
Biscuit Balls – Large & Small
Strong Rubber Squeaky Toys
Plush Toys

Many of these items can be purchased from our wish lists on PetFlow or Amazon via AmazonSmiles.

Thank you for your kindness.

We’ll see you there.

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NYCACC’s Curious Choice of a Medical Director

The good news: New York City Animal Care and Control (NYCACC) has finally hired a medical director after more than three years.

The bad news: this is a very curious choice.

After more than three years without a medical director NYCACC has hired Dr. Lisa Hara Levin for the position. I was excited to see this at first until I started parsing the introduction, which is oddly short on specifics – for example, not listing a single position held in shelter medicine. A lack of detail like that usually indicates a cause for concern, and so I started digging.

Let us begin with Dr. Levin’s postdoctoral education at Johns Hopkins University, where she served in 1987-1988 as a fellow to Dr. Richard Traystman, who at the time was a Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine as well as the director of the Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine Research Laboratories. Dr._LevinDr. Traystman helpfully publishes his resume online where he lists Dr. Levin as one of the postdoctoral fellows he trained in 1987-88. Dr. Traystman mostly trains human doctors but Dr. Levin is one of a handful of vets he has trained as well. Dr. Traystman is a research scientist and extremely prolific publisher of research, and mostly what he does is medical research on animals – to put it bluntly, vivisection. In 1987-88 Dr. Traystman published reams of research also helpfully listed on his online resume which involved experiments that sound rather unpleasant on dogs, cats, sheep, rabbits, infant pigs, and newborn lambs – and that’s just what he published in a two year period. One would assume that as a fellow under Dr. Traystman, Dr. Levin was fairly deeply involved in his research and publishing. This interest in vivisection re-appears later in her career.

From there the digital trail runs cold for a while. In 1994 Dr. Levin published a charming sounding paper entitled “Pain Control in Laboratory Animals”, which would indicate to me that she was still working in the field. I suppose it is some, relatively minor comfort that she had some interest in controlling the pain of animals being experimented on.

Also published in 1994 was a paper written while seemingly employed by the Humane Society of the United States entitled “Appointing Animal Protectionists to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees“. A little background: every institution that uses animals in research is required to have a committee that monitors and offers input on how the animals are being used. I strongly recommend you read the (non-technical, non-graphic) paper yourself, but what I got out of it was an encouragement to animal research facilities to “reach out” to local animal protectionists in the spirit of… I’m not sure. Some would say cooperation, some would say co-option. I encourage you to read the paper. The Humane Society of the United States, whom she was evidently working for at the time, promoted the paper in their magazine (beginning on p. 30) as a step towards more humane treatment of laboratory animals, if you’re into participating in that sort of thing. As the HSUS said themselves in the magazine, “be willing to work within the system” (p. 34). I’m pretty sure any work within that system would give me nightmares.

In 1996 she was cited in a work entitled “Xenotransplantation: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy” as a participant in the workshop that is the subject of the publication. Xenotransplantation is the act of transplanting cells, tissues or organs from one species to another, and you can bet that’s a field that involves a lot of animal research. That’s not the interesting part, however – the interesting thing is that Dr. Levin is listed as being associated with an organization called “Americans for Medical Progress”, an advocacy organization that promotes and defends vivisection in biomedical research. This would seem to be somewhat at odds with her HSUS work but consistent with her postdoctoral studies.

Our digital trail again falters until around 1997, when Dr. Levin turns up first as an employee and then in 1999 as the very first Director of Veterinary Services for the infamous Associated Humane of Newark, NJ – a group of some very troubled shelters that by the way remain so to this day. Most of what we know of Dr. Levin’s time there comes from the official state investigative report into longtime wrongdoing at Associated Humane published in 2003. The report treats Dr. Levin with kid gloves, indicating to me that she must have been quite helpful to the investigators, but what the report details in facilities that she was the veterinary director of is horrifying and reminds one of some of the ACC’s worst historical practices. Dr. Levin is repeatedly cited in the report for firing off memos to superiors about violations as serious as vet techs performing surgery, but nowhere is it stated that she called law enforcement or state enforcement agencies, and she stayed with Associated for quite a while – from 1997 to 2001. The report contains an entire section on “Violations of the Law”, many of which are veterinary.

After that things quiet down and Dr. Levin turns up here and there in searches. I do not find any online record of her providing medical direction for a shelter facility since Associated Humane. She appears to have worked in private practice, at spay/neuter clinics, and has been associated with a sanctuary in AZ although not evidently as an employee.

I’m not sure what drew NYCACC to Dr. Levin, and my research on her leads me to more questions than answers: is she a former vivisectionist who flipped sides, became more interested in animal welfare, and eventually found her satisfaction in what appears to be a very honest effort to do good for animals through spay/neuter? Why is NYCACC so secretive about her background? Is Associated Humane the only shelter she was ever a medical director at, and why would NYCACC hire a former medical director who worked at one of the most infamously corrupt shelter systems in the country at one of the most tumultuous and brutal times in their history? Does she renounce her participation in animal-based research? Does she maintain ties to organizations that promote the use of research animals?

Is this the best they can do after 3 years of looking?

I think Dr. Levin deserves a chance to explain herself and her background, but I also think New Yorkers deserve to see a complete resume and for that explanation to happen rather quickly. The idea of a former vivisectionist as a shelter medical director is rife with potential conflicts of interest and a mindset that perhaps may not value the life of individual animals in a way that contributes meaningfully to saving them.

I do hope some of you will join me at the board meeting of NYCACC on Thursday, January 30th at 10:30am. The public comment portion of the meeting is bound to be an interesting one.

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NYCACC Board Meeting Announced

New York City’s Animal Care and Control will hold their quarterly board meeting on Thursday, January 30 at 10:30AM. The official notice is here and is reprinted below.

It seems whenever I post a meeting announcement the first comment is about how inconvenient it is, so let me head you off at the pass on that one: yes, it is inconvenient, and intentionally so. Historically, they don’t really want public participation in the process. So far that’s worked out pretty well for them. Are you willing to help change that?

Notice_of_Board_Meeting01302014

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And now for an important announcement…

IMG_9062This blog will be going back mostly to “Opinions You Should Have”. All rescue-related activity has gone to a new page for a new rescue I’m very excited about, and we’re launching with a bang by rescuing 15 kittens! Please read the story and like our Facebook page for Pibbles and Kits!

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