“There are three kinds of lies. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Today I’m going to demonstrate to you how New York City Animal Care and Control (variously referred to as NYCACC, AC&C, ACC or “the pound”) spins lies into gold – and why.
There is a group in NYC called the Mayor’s Alliance which was formed to pursue a grant to transform New York into a No Kill community. Despite their name they are not part of city government and have nothing to do with the Mayor. In 2005 they got that grant which continues today from an philanthropic organization called Maddie’s Fund, a foundation that provides grants to communities seeking to be No Kill. The original target to make New York City a No Kill community was 2008, that goal has since been extended to 2015.
The Mayor’s Alliance consists of NYCACC and 111 No Kill rescue organizations in the NYC area. These organizations get money from this Maddie’s Fund grant, administered by the Mayor’s Alliance to incentivize activities such as adoption. NYCACC also receives other support such as funding for certain staff positions (among other things) and the Mayor’s Alliance promotes rescue and adoption overall and hosts events in New York City. All very well and good!
There are certain performance targets that all participating organizations are required to hit to keep this grant. This is no small potatoes; in total the Mayor’s Alliance had $4,990,000 to spend in 2011, with a little over $3,000,000 of that coming from Maddie’s Fund – the remaining funding comes from various sources including the ASPCA.
I encourage you to dig into some data if you’re interested – the yearly grant application is a fascinating if dense document and is extremely educational. Today we’re going to examine just one condition of the grant, one important enough to show up as a reminder on the very first page of the document that refers to Year 7 of the grant, from 2011.
This is referred to as the “Zero Healthy Deaths” provision and it became a condition of the grant in 2009: starting in 2009, all partner orgs including ACC were required to save every healthy animal in their care. For the already No Kill partners – well, no problem. That’s what they do anyway. For the ACC, mired in a kill mentality, this presented a problem – it was a target that they didn’t think they could hit. Fortunately, they hit upon a quick and easy solution: lie about the health conditions of the animals in their care and classify healthy animals as sick. That way they could kill them and still get their grant.
This has been an open secret in New York since… well, since 2009. Let me show you how it works.
I’m going to use as an example the cat kill list sent out by NYCACC to their New Hope partners on a single day – Jan 16, 2012. That link is the complete cat kill list for that day (certain details, like contact information, have been redacted or removed) and if you’ve never seen an original I encourage you to go check it out and familiarize yourself with the format. No need to be squeamish about this one – fortunately, every single cat on this list was pulled and saved by rescues, including Gloria. I transported six of the cats on this list to rescue and thus am very familiar with them. This isn’t a particularly large kill list for the ACC, only 12 cats. Of the 12 cats, 3 of them are categorized as having major health conditions when they have none. 3 more are categorized as having major health conditions when they have extremely minor health conditions, possibly none. In short, half of this list has faked medical conditions on it to justify killing these animals. Let’s take a look at the descriptions of those cats.
Lancaster’s been saddled with a “3C” medical rating – major medical conditions. On his intake exam on 1/4 he was rated “2NC”, which means minor medical conditions not contagious. No fleas, no ear mites. The notation “nosf” (sometimes “nsf”) means “no significant findings”. On 1/15 he was re-evaluated and upgraded to his 3C rating, but his notes say he’s healthy. QAR means “Quiet, Alert, Responsive” and eupenic means “breathing freely and normally”. His final exam makes no note of illness at all. Nonetheless, he’s classified as major medical conditions and sent to the kill list.
Penny is classified as “3NC” – major medical conditions, not contagious. Her initial exam on 1/13 shows a healthy cat. Two days later, on 1/15, she gets her final exam. No change. The notation “BAR” means “bright, alert, responsive” and the note “not ausculted” means that they didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t use a stethoscope to listen to internal sounds. All indications are that this is a healthy cat.
Darla is classified as “3C”, major medical conditions, and had an initial exam on 1/5. Healthy cat. No significant findings. On 1/15 that hadn’t changed. Still healthy, all notes positive. Sent to the kill list.
Nestles is classified as “3C”, major medical conditions. Her initial exam on 12/29 showed no significant findings, her final exam on 1/15 showed nothing but “slightly congested”. Now, ACC definitely has a disease problem – upper respiratory infections and worse run wild in the shelter, and you’ll see that many of the cats on the kill list are put on medications for it – but not Nestles, because it’s not necessarily a URI. Just slightly congested. Interestingly, Nestles is simultaneously noted to be eupneic – breathing freely and normally. Nonetheless, that’s classified as a major medical condition and Nestles is off to the kill list.
Mary is very similar to Nestles. Classified as “3C”, she’s off to the kill list for slight congestion – although she’s also simultaneously noted to be eupneic, breathing freely and normally.
Sammy is a four month old kitten. His initial exam on 1/13 indicates some eye issues, but his follow up indicates nothing but dried up eye discharge. He is classified “3C”, major health conditions, and sent to the kill list.
On this one single day there were 12 cats on the kill list. 3 of them have health conditions that are outright fabrications; 3 of them have health conditions that are greatly exaggerated. The other 6 have URI’s given to them at the shelter. The grant had the very odd and completely unintended side effect of further encouraging ACC to do nothing about the unchecked spread of disease in the shelter, because killing a sick animal is still okay.
So the ACC needs to hit certain performance targets to keep the money flowing, and they lie about it. There it is in black and white. Their other rescue partners – the 111 rescue groups that make up the coalition – are also having a funding source endangered by the ACCs reckless, irresponsible and unethical actions, and even worse it calls into question the accuracy of every statistic the ACC publishes. They’re not making any effort to hide this; it’s blatant. What other data are they faking? This calls every single statistic they publish into question.
Why are their partners in the Mayor’s Alliance not pressuring them to clean up their act? Why is the Mayor’s Alliance, the administrator of the grant, not cracking down to get them to straighten up – their blatant lies are endangering the entire partnership and a tremendous source of income and for almost the entire NYC rescue community. Maddie’s is stuck in the middle – their grant has undeniably made a tremendous difference in the lives of NYC’s animals (if not the basic operations and attitude of NYCACC) and they obviously would like to continue their work here, but their partners aren’t being truthful with them.
You cannot build a functioning shelter on a foundation of lies. Richard Avanzino, the President of Maddie’s Fund, has a lot to say on the subject of transparency. In a widely read (and excellent) editorial, he wrote:
“In my opinion, real transparency means no fudging allowed… If there is a problem, the best way to address it is to talk about it.”
Mr. Avanzino, as a citizen of New York City I cannot thank you enough for all the good your organization has done here, but far more progress would be possible if your grantees were embracing your philosophy, and truth and openness and accountability were the talk of the rescue community rather than deception. Let’s talk about it. Let’s fix this.