NYCACC and Maddie’s Fund: Money Ain’t a Thing

Last time we looked at the relationship between Maddie’s Fund and New York City Animal Care and Control, we looked at how NYCACC data is falsified to keep the grant money flowing to the Mayor’s Alliance, and I’d suggest taking a look at that post for some basic background. Today I’m going to look a little deeper at how Maddie’s incentivizes animal adoption here in NYC, why their project has been simultaneously a runaway success and an abject failure, and why they can never leave. Further, I’ll demonstrate that despite being criminally underfunded by the City of New York ACC is not motivated by money and, in fact, leaves easily earned grant money on the table.

This is the graph that really tells the story of Maddie’s involvement in NYC from their 2010 Progress Report, p. 11. The red part of the bar graph represents the number of animals adopted out to the public directly by ACC, the grey part of the graph represents the number of animals adopted out to the public by other partners obtaining those animals from ACC who share in the Maddie’s grant administered by the Mayor’s Alliance.

The grey part of that graph shows a smashing success. The number of animals pulled from ACC by Maddie’s funded organizations was just 7,672 in the baseline year of 2003 and seems to have leveled off at approximately 20,000 in recent years – a huge win.

How was this accomplished? Partially through Maddie’s-funded improvements in ACC communications with rescue organizations and transport to those rescues but primarily through direct cash incentives: in 2011, a participating rescue that pulled an animal from ACC and adopted them out received $160 in grant money per animal over their 2003 baseline number – and that is on top of the adoption fee charged by the group. While this may seem high, it’s easy to see why it would need to be – disease runs rampant at ACC (partially due to a Maddie’s policy that allows the ACC to kill sick animals while keeping their funding, leaving them little reason to clean up their act) and unexpected and extreme veterinary costs are routine for the small organizations that regularly pull animals from there – even horrific injury can go completely unnoticed by ACC staff for weeks. So high or not, and even while partially working against themselves, this payment has been sufficient to take overall adoption numbers to around the 20,000/year range and could reasonably expected to keep them in that neighborhood with adjustments for inflation for as long as Maddie’s wishes to continue paying that rate.

The bottom of the graph shows the failure. The ACC’s adoption numbers to the public also have increased – slightly. From their baseline of 4,927 adoptions in 2003 they climbed to 10,865 in 2005 and have been dropping steadily ever since, to 6,733 in 2010 . The explanation that the Mayor’s Alliance gives is that the lack of improvement is due to a drop in intake numbers, but while intake numbers have declined that still means that in 2010, with intake of 34,765 ACC managed to adopt out less than 20% of intake on their own, a rather poor showing.

ACC receives slightly different incentives; after all many of their costs are borne by the city. In 2011, they were due to receive $32 per adoption to the public over their 2003 baseline number of 4,927 adoptions. Their dropping adoption numbers have meant a steady decline in the grant money they have received yearly. Theoretically, if they could claw their way back to 2005 adoption numbers, they could have brought in $190,016 through grant incentives instead of the $57,792 that they managed to bring in in 2010. That $132,224 difference certainly could have paid for a few adoptions staff positions.

What’s painful is that improving their adoptions numbers would be so easy because they’re so spectacularly bad at it. They do not have a published phone number, so the public can’t call them to ask questions. Potential adopters who do make their way to the shelter are greeted with a smelly, chaotic environment where they are frequently treated rudely, as if their presence is an inconvenience. The shelters refuse to provide separate intake and adoptions areas, so potential adopters are treated to a parade of the most depressing things on earth as they wait… and wait… and wait. Killing animals is expensive; adopting animals out makes them money – but obviously the money isn’t a concern to them, and institutional inertia keeps them allowing animals to get sick through conditions they create so they can then kill them. It’s curious to see ACC involving themselves in questionable moneymaking schemes like coffee and tea sales and fundraising dances when some simple improvements in what should be the core of their business could have such an immediate financial impact, not just in grant money but in adoption fees.

So Maddie’s has been a grand success here in New York City: they have massively increased adoptions from ACC, mostly by paying people to take animals away from ACC. However, they’ve been unable to fundamentally influence the way in which ACC works, even when providing them with financial incentive to change their policies. Maddie’s is the iron lung keeping New York City Animal Care and Control breathing, and as long as they stick around and pump millions of dollars into New York City every year, adoptions will be up and they will be able to claim success. However, because they have never successfully addressed the fundamental flaws in ACC operations that cause the issues in the first place and encouraged reforms that would lead to lasting change and future self-sufficiency, adoptions are likely to drop like a rock the moment Maddie’s closes their checkbook and New York City will be back where we started, and the ten-year project will be judged a failure.

So make yourselves comfortable, Maddie’s Fund. With your current strategy, you’re likely to be pumping cash infusions into a fundamentally failing system for some time to come, and the improvements will only last as long as your money does.

This entry was posted in Cats, Dogs, New York City, No Kill, Not Funny, NYCACC, Shelter Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Rich Avanzino, Maddie’s Fund President, issued an open letter in December 2011 in response to “… the few critics who want the foundation to get more involved in NYC’s animal control operations.” http://www.maddiesfund.org/Documents/Funded%20Projects/Maddies%20Fund%20NYC%20Grant.pdf — Real change will need to occur on a municipal level, with a new Mayor, since Governor Cuomo will not touch ACC operations either. A recent No-Kill workshop by Nathan Winograd in NYC helped show the pathway, already known by many who are willing to implement change. Money is not the issue. What is needed now is a complete overhaul in leadership, from ACC, to the DOH, to the Mayor. Only then will the unnecessary killing be stopped.

    • jbsibley

      Correct – and even if Cuomo was interested, he has no power to intervene.

  • Jay

    Great post.

    When rescues finally start to realize that NYCACC needs THEM more than they need NYCACC and they decide to band together in a sort of “protective coalition” then true change may start to occur. As NYCACC does virtually no open houses, adoption events, and mass advertising they’ve grown lazy and rely upon, what I call, “adoption by proxy,” through rescue groups. Imagine how many COULD be saved if they weren’t so lazy and actually held events, promoted themselves, and embraced the public.

    It’s nothing for NYCACC to harass or intimidate a sole rescue or volunteer… but 8? 10? 15? All standing together to protect the other? Well, then maybe not so much. Sole victims are an easy mark for the school bully, but when the entire classroom finally gets fed up and stands united– well, then the balance of power shifts.

    Personally, I can’t wait for the day that happens.

    • jbsibley

      The problem with that theory is that… well, ACC doesn’t need rescue groups. They certainly haven’t done anything to encourage rescue on their own. They didn’t create or fund a department exclusively to interface with rescues. They didn’t seek a way to provide transport of animals to rescues. They don’t assist rescues with costs. The Alliance did all that. ACC still doesn’t share data like kill lists with rescues willingly beyond a select few. The ACC seems to have little interest in promoting rescue (or, for that matter, adoption) on its own. If ACC had its way, I fear that rescues banding together will would simply be ejected so they could kill in peace, undisturbed by coalitions and partnerships interested in saving animals from the outside.

      You certainly can’t look to the Mayor’s Alliance to help with that – members must toe the line if they want a seat at the trough. Speaking out can be hazardous to their funding.

  • Thanks for the great blog, John. I think you are spot-on about everything you included in this writing. I would add one thing, however: I think Maddie’s approach, in the long-run, may be even more damaging that is outright stated in your piece.

    You stated, and I agree, that real, lasting, meaningful change will only come about with a shift in leadership. However, since Maddie’s Fund has continually held New York as a “national model of success” they have, at minimum, delayed meaningful reforms. Maddie’s Fund has created all the political cover these so-called “leaders” need to maintain the status quo.

    Furthermore, I believe the situation is even worse than that. I suspect a significant number of the animals now being pulled by rescue groups from NYACC are in fact causing those same rescue groups to take FEWER animals from other sources… animals that likely never made it on the graph of the baseline year, because they were coming from “out of the network”.

    Don’t get me wrong: I am all for rescuing locally first. I believe we should all do our part to take care of what is in our own back yards before trying to clean up someone else’s mess. If I understand the graph correctly, they are not counting animals rescued from outside the network. If that is true, during the baseline year, there were likely many lives saved that were not counted, because the rescue groups got them from other sources.

    If the grey portion of the bar only counts animals pulled from NYACC, the total bar only represents total lives saved from NYACC, not total lives saved by the organizations participating. If I have that wrong, let me know.

  • jbsibley

    I believe your interpretation of the graph is correct, as well as your larger point – and I’ll be expanding a little bit on that in a post next week!

  • Thank you for this amazing analysis of the situation John.

    Under the great leadership of popular past ACC Excutive Director, Mary Martin, the Brooklyn Animal Foster Network (BAFN) held twice monthly adoption events with the North Shore Animal League/ACC adoption events. North Shore Motor coaches picked up hundreds of cats and dogs from ACC over the years and drove them to BAFN’s highly successful adoption location in Park Slope. We enjoyed a 99% adoption rate of these cats and dogs into wonderful homes.

    One event we held with the help of State Senator Eric Addams netted 61 adoptions in 4 hours to great area homes. Under Ms Martin rescuers were enjoying a Golden Period of Rescue that would end abruptly in October, 2007 with Ms. Martin’s unfortunate departure.

    The DOH gave the ACC helm to one Charlene Pedrolie, who began a 2 year reign of terror that ended with the countless firings of exceptional top level ACC employees and a the willy nilly, indiscriminate banning of New Hope individuals and rescue groups including our group BAFN.

    Gratefully, Pedrolie was finally fired in disgrace . Then just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, in comes Julie Bank a “shelter professional” who’s own or should we say lack management style is so bereft of out of the box thinking that some rescuers actually pine for the good old days of Charelene Pedrolie. Gone are the ACC adoption events. Volunteers have been raked through the coals and some of the most notable New Hope liaisons, who were so instrumental in the rescue adoption numbers that contributed to the black bars of your chart John have been fired.

    In the five years since we were unjustly banned, BAFN has been repeatedly shot down for New Hope reinstatement by every Executive Director including Ms. Bank. Our calculations show that since our banning, close to 4,000 cats and dogs have been murdered by a slew of uncaring shelter directors. Without more concrete hiring oversight from the rescue community, the next director will also hold little hope for this corrupt system.

    Imagine adding BAFN’s probable rescue of 4,000 animals to the ACC red bar section could mean so little to them. It’s a moral bankruptcy at its worst.

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