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.