I’m pretty hard on the “big three” of animal welfare, and I believe for good reason: when you raise tons of money, when you hold yourself up as an example, an expert, and a role model, I expect you to act the part.
I’ve come to expect little from the ASPCA in New York City, and this week they truly lived up to my expectations. There are two cats here this past week whom the ASPCA completely and utterly failed.
Gloria, a 5 year old cat, was left behind at an ASPCA spay/neuter mobile clinic in Queens. The ASPCA raises $140M per year and has the slogan “We Are Their Voice”, but they weren’t Gloria’s voice – they decided they could or would not care for her and left her at the New York City pound, NYC’s infamously abusive Animal Care and Control, where the lucky cats just get sick and the unlucky cats get dead. I’m not sure what happened to Gloria (does anyone have an update?), but I do hope that some small overburdened rescue steps in to accomplish what the mighty ASPCA is clearly incapable of doing – the right thing.
The second case is somewhat more troubling to me, a more explicit betrayal: an animal that the ASPCA stepped up for and claimed as their own and then abandoned.
On December 13, New York City’s Animal Care and Control listed a cat on their nightly kill list named Benny.
The ASPCA stepped up for Benny. They took him into their facility, and at some point administered a test for feline leukemia (FeLV). When they found out he was positive (side note: why did the AC&C not test him?), they returned him to the New York City shelter to take his chances with the needle. Here’s his cage card showing his return on 1/7/12:
I spoke to the ASPCA today and confirmed that they do adopt out FeLV positive cats and they maintain a separate, isolated room in their adoption facility for them. They clearly have the financing, the expertise, and the ability to care for Benny. They just chose not to.
Now, the ASPCA takes in around $140M per year and adopts out approximately 3400 animals from their ONLY dedicated adoption facility in Manhattan, so they raise about $41,176 per adopted animal per year. And yes, I know that’s not all that they do. But still…
The ASPCA stepped up for this cat and pulled him from NYC Animal Care and Control (NYC AC&C, the pound) and then turned their back on Benny when things didn’t go their way, and I don’t think that that is something reputable rescues should do – and that goes double when you’re the richest, most well known rescue in the United States and you set yourself up as an example and a guide for other organizations.
When you step up as a rescue organization and agree to take in an animal, I think you make a commitment to that animal that should be, for lack of a better word, sacred: that you will take care of them as best you can, that you will provide for them in all senses of the word, and you will not let them go until you have placed them somewhere that is better (obviously this isn’t perfect, the important part is a good faith effort and intent). When the ASPCA turned their back on Benny and left him at a kill shelter they broke this promise that we all make to the animals we agree to accept responsibility for.
The rescue that I work most often with, the tiny Pets Alive, has (very) roughly around 1/280th of the A’s annual income and has pulled many animals from NYC AC&C and other organizations that kill. And I know with some of those animals there have been surprises (as will always happen): unexpected illnesses, surprise outbreaks, behavioral issues. But Pets Alive never gave up on them and I don’t believe it ever crossed their mind to return them to be killed. I am pretty sure that they didn’t do that because their commitment to those animal(s) means more to them than the money and time and sheer commitment needed – even in tough times – to spend to help them to make it right.
And I am nearly as sure that the A couldn’t be bothered – for reasons financial or otherwise, I really don’t care – to honor their promise.
Benny was pulled out of the NYC shelter after the ASPCA abandoned him by an organization even smaller than Pets Alive called Empty Cages Collective. Although I have not worked with them personally, ECC is held in the highest regard by the NYC rescue community and I have no doubt that they will do right by Benny. They too observe the rescue code: they have never returned an animal to the NYC pound after having stepped up and promised to take responsibility for them. I do hope you will consider a donation to them to help with Benny’s care and placement for him into a home.
These are the organizations that need and deserve your support, not the massive monoliths that have lost touch with their basic purpose in order to become fundraising machines that enrich themselves above all else, that have lost all semblance of a moral compass in pursuit of size and money and influence. Support the small rescues that consistently do great work and live up to their ideals, and stop giving to the slick money machines with flexible moral codes.
The animals of NYC – and of your town as well – are counting on you.
ADDENDUM: I am already seeing some reaction to this blog where people tell a story about “my local ASPCA”, so it’s a good time to re-address that point. Unless you live in the New York City metropolitan area, you do not have a local ASPCA. “SPCA”, like “Humane Society”, is a generic name for an animal related organization and donations to the ASPCA when you get one of their mailers or see a late night TV commercial, for the most part, do not go to run your local SPCA. By and large the small portion of your ASPCA donation that goes directly to the general operations fund of a shelter goes to running the ASPCA’s one and only 6000 square foot shelter facility in New York City. The ASPCA frequently takes advantage of this marketplace confusion to further enrich themselves.