ASPCA: A New Beginning?

UPDATE 7/25/12: Sayres has confirmed his departure. You heard it here first.

I’ve been hearing whispers for some time now but I’ve recently confirmed it: Ed Sayres, President and CEO of the ASPCA, is looking for an exit. I’ve been able to confirm that he’s applied for at least one job outside the organization.

To New Yorkers, Ed Sayres’ tenure will likely be best remembered for his opposition to meaningful shelter reform in New York City and New York State, his arrogance in the execution of a dog named Oreo after his organization used her to raise huge amounts of money, and for the ASPCA’s role in propping up the regressive and abusive New York City Animal Care and Control – although to be fair, when the ASPCA ran city animal control, they did a considerably worse job of it. His signature initiative at the ASPCA, “Mission: Orange”, promised to take cities in America to No Kill and failed miserably. In Austin, one of the first Mission: Orange cities, killing actually increased 11% in the year after the ASPCA initiated their program. It was only once local activists rebelled against the program, ejected the ASPCA-backed city shelter director and insisted on proven No Kill strategies that Austin did finally achieve No Kill status – without the help of the ASPCA, who obstructed progress at every opportunity. Indeed, his tenure has been marked by open hostility to progress in animal welfare nationwide and the promotion of policies designed to impede it.

So now we get to envision what the ASPCA might look like in a post-Sayres mode, and I like what I see. As the dinosaurs of animal welfare get out of the way it only leaves room for improvement, and the ASPCA has a lot to offer. They’re wealthy and well known, they’re politically influential, and they have some very solid programs and some knowledgable staff. They actually do run a (small) shelter in New York City and formerly ran New York City Animal Control for around a hundred years, so they have the benefit of real-world experience that is sadly missing at the HSUS. They provide significant spay/neuter resources in the New York City area, provide grants to animal welfare organizations, and have been very active in the fight against puppy mills. They also have a lot of bloat in the form of extraneous management and bureaucracy and a lack of focus – they have their fingers in so many pies at the moment that it’s hard to say exactly what the ASPCA’s mission is.

A new leader could change all that and could sharpen their focus, and if I may I’d like to suggest a central mission for an organization that seems to have lost sight of theirs.

The No Kill revolution is here. We’re now up to 28 communities in the US saving 90% or more community-wide [UPDATE 7/25/12: That number is now more than 40.], saving all of the healthy and treatable pets in their communities, and not a single one of them has had significant participation in that effort by the ASPCA. Not participating in this isn’t really an option: if the ASPCA wants to keep their donors long-term, they need to get on the right side of history before their donors turn to the small, mostly local organizations that have led the No Kill revolution, as I and others continually urge animal lovers to do.

The right leader – a progressive, forward thinking leader who truly embraces strategies proven in communities throughout the US to end the killing of healthy and treatable animals – could leverage the power and reach of the ASPCA to turbo-charge the No Kill movement in America.

This is the ASPCA I imagine – and indeed, if they’d like to still be here a hundred years from now and known throughout the world as the organization that ended animal homelessness in the United States, there is little other path for them to take but to wholeheartedly embrace, promote, and capitalize on the existing successes and growing expertise of the No Kill movement.

The search for a new President and CEO is probably a bit down the road, but as a lame duck Sayres’ influence will be on the wane within the ASPCA and the list of possible successors has likely begun to be drawn up. A No Kill leader with a proven track records of lifesaving, tremendous progressive vision, and keen organizational leadership skills could lead the A into a new era of astounding success.

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  • SJ

    Under Ed Sayres “leadership,” the ASPCA more than doubled its fundraising, advertising, and corporate marketing programs and now surpasses the HSUS in annual revenue. Their TV infomercials brought in $30 million the first year, inspiring the ultra-competitive HSUS to follow suit. The dueling HSUS-ASPCA ads have diverted countless millions of dollars from lifesaving initiatives. Maybe Mr. ($500,000 a year) Sayres thought that as long as the money was rolling in, he, like Wayne Pacelle, would not be held accountable for his actions. The complaint filed with the California Attorney General and the recent Forbes piece tell a different story. Sayres – and Pacelle and Newkirk – need to go, ASAP.

    • bsaunders

      More to the point, there’s a board sitting there that does NOT hold him accountable for anything except keeping the money rolling in. We need regime change at that level, too. (Maybe it’s even more important fundamentally.)

      • Dorian12

        I agree that the board is the real problem. There is at least some understanding in the business world that corporate boards are responsible for the leadership and practices of their CEOs. But most nonprofit boards do nothing but raise money (their primary function) and maintain the status quo. The A’s board allowed Sayres to keep his job after the killing of Oreo, and clearly, they endorsed his Machiavellian scheme to prevent shelter reform in NY state — because they chose not to prevent it, despite a letter-writing campaign to the head of the board earlier this year. Although they likely know about the staff discontent that Abby Eleven talks about in her comment from a few months ago, if they’ve picked someone like Hansen to succeed Sayres, the experience of the people who work there is of no importance to them. Likely their only goal is to make sure things continue as they have, albeit with a little less scandal. I’m sure the ASPCA will continue to raise huge amounts of money for years to come — direct response fundraising does work — but eventually there will be enough of a shift that reporters will notice the disconnect between its image and what people in the animal protection field actually think of the organization. IMO, this will take a long time.

  • Abby Eleven

    Ed Sayres’ replacement has already been chosen, and believe me, Ed’s leaving will not be time for any big improvements. The “upper management” teams he has assembled are a wreck. Employee morale is in the toilet. The place is a mess, and only works because of some effective programs such as S/N outreach and fundraising. The entire organization is so tied up in minutiae, runs everything based on metrics, the management style is don’t ask, don’t tell. Employees have no say in anything, everything, every little decision, is secretive. They are all over the place, as you know, with what their mission is: are they “sanitation” people, who try to take credit for dog fighting busts, for large scale hoarding ops, when in reality, they bring big trucks and transport the animals to facilities who actually do the long term care. They throw some money at different municipalities in exchange for getting credit for running and investigating these operations. They are a joke, run by a bunch of dog catchers from Missouri and one ex-MO cop who BOUGHT A PITBULL< TRAINED IT TO FIGHT< FOUGHT IT<AND HAD IT KILLED so he could "take down a dog fighting ring." The most horrific thing I 've ever heard in my life. People liek that have NO place in a so-called AW org. The so called "community initiatives" dept, formerly "mission orange" does nothing to further no-kill, again, throw money at communities, try to dazzle everyone with "statistics" and make sure your name goes on every release and you take credit for every positive in a partner community SEE AUSTIN TX. The organization is a mess, employees are miserable, Ed Sayres has run the org into the toilet-Henry Bergh must be rolling in his grave. The new president, apparently Steve Hansen, runs the APCC and is being groomed to take over. He runs everything by numbers, no heart, no vision.
    I hope Ed does leave, the sooner the better, but I know it will not improve anything.

  • What-ever

    Don’t count on the next president to be any different than Ed Sayres. The board likes this type of conservative do nothing. The main requirement is for someone to be a good fund raiser and to increase those coffers.

    you say: “A new leader could change all that and could sharpen their focus, and if I may I’d like to suggest a central mission for an organization that seems to have lost sight of theirs.”

    The ‘A’ lost sight of their mission years and years ago. This is nothing new.

    This organization is rotten to the core and we have to learn how to expose that reality to the unknowing and ignorant public and put aside our hopes that they will ever change.