Maddie’s Fund Looks The Other Way at NYC’s “Veil of Secrecy”

A few weeks ago, Maddie’s Fund issued a rather surprising document from President Richard Avanzino entitled 71% of Americans Favor No-Kill Editorial. It is, for the most part, a plea for accurate data and statistical information in America’s public shelters, and it’s surprising to see it coming from him because the shelters of New York City falsify their data in order to get grant money from the organization he heads while he looks the other way. Further, his organization and the organization that administers the grant in New York, the Mayor’s Alliance, repeatedly claim that they are on their way to No Kill success while the data shows a different story, of a success that can and will only continue for as long as Maddie’s wants to continue to dump large amounts of money into NYC.

I wrote Mr. Avanzino an email on the subject but received no reply. I know that Maddie’s Fund is a small and rather old-school organization and what happens in social media is for the most part not on their radar. In consideration of this, I have written the letter below and will be sending it tomorrow to Mr. Avanzino via USPS, return receipt requested.

Dear Mr. Avanzino;

I am writing to you as a concerned New Yorker, animal rescuer, and advocate in the trenches of New York City – and first, may I sincerely thank you for all that Maddie’s Fund has done for the animals of New York City. I am a great admirer of yours and of the ideals of your organization.

I was distressed, however, by your recent editorial 71% of Americans Favor No-Kill, in which you talk about the importance of statistical transparency, especially from public shelters. I was especially struck by this passage with regard to the transparency of statistics: “It’s hard to believe so many industry leaders are still willing to protect their peers at the peril of the animals we are supposed to serve. Leadership is about stepping out in front and taking bold moves, not giving in to peer pressure. Leaders try to change the status quo, not maintain it.”

I know you hear a lot about the dysfunction of New York City Animal Care and Control (AC&C) – so much so that you wrote about it in an open letter in December of 2010 describing Maddie’s as having tied hands, without authority over policy, staffing, or oversight. The one area where you do have a significant amount of power, however, is statistical accuracy.

It is well known in the New York rescue community, and I believe to you and your staff, that the data reported to you by the Mayor’s Alliance who administers your grant here is falsified significantly, and none more so than the data of the AC&C. For years it has been an open secret in New York that in order to meet the “Zero Healthy Deaths” provision of the grant, the numbers for AC&C are falsified. Healthy pets are killed and recorded as sick, pets with normal behavior reported as hopelessly aggressive.

This is not just speculation or rumor on my part – I pull animals from the kill lists of AC&C for rescue and transport them. I meet them, I view their medical records, I bring them to safe harbor or to immediate medical care if necessary. I have documented the animals I meet and their paperwork in my blog at http://www.johnsibley.com. I routinely – on every journey – meet healthy animals who have been listed as sick to justify their deaths, or whose medical conditions have been greatly exaggerated, and I have documented them. I also meet animals from these same kill lists who have been judged to be too violent to live who are completely normal, well-adjusted dogs and cats who go on to normal lives in adoptive homes.

Lately it has become much worse: in an environment where some medical records are falsified to serve an agenda, all become suspect and rescues cannot rely on medical information given to them by AC&C. The animal pulled from today’s list may have undiagnosed parvo, or flu, or even strep zoo. Further, the Zero Healthy Deaths provision has created another wholly unintentional side effect: there is no incentive for AC&C to curb the spread of disease, so preventable conditions like kennel cough and upper respiratory infections remain resident in the shelter and affect all animals who stay there long enough.

Maddie’s holds all the cards when it comes to requiring transparency from the New York City shelter system. For years, the sleight-of-hand has been accepted – and as you so correctly note, “this kind of reporting does not allow for any real understanding or judgement on performance… shelters miss the opportunity to take advantage of the gains that could be made”. I am asking you for the first time to audit the data Maddie’s receives, particularly in respect to the numbers of the AC&C. To accept those numbers when everyone involved knows them to be false is letting down the animals of New York City and is contributing to an environment of veterinary malpractice and neglect that is costing animals their lives, while suffering horribly. There is simply no way to know what your grant is doing – and not doing – in New York City without having correct information, and your partners at the Mayor’s Alliance have a history of misrepresenting what is happening at the AC&C. It’s time to stop taking it on faith, of blindly looking the other way. It’s time to require an independent audit of the data you receive and to set an example of what you plead for from others, requiring actual transparency – and hopefully, accountability – of your grantees.

Some have tried to paint this as an all-or-nothing proposal, that the only two choices here are for Maddie’s to continue to accept falsified data and continue paying out, knowing that the money is at least doing some good, or to leave New York City. I ask you to consider a third way.

There is no one in the trenches in New York City who believes for a moment that New York will be No Kill by 2015, the target end date for your grant. In the current political climate here that seems like an impossibility, and AC&C has made no progress toward a No Kill ideal and does not even currently pretend to. It’s time to sit down again with your partners here and re-assess what this grant is for and to be honest with the people of New York and with your partners about what can be done through outside financial assistance alone – to really see where your money can do the most good here and to hopefully create self-sustaining systems that may live on in service of an eventual No Kill goal once Maddie’s has withdrawn, unlike the current system which will collapse the moment you leave town unless other sources of funding are found, undoing the progress that has been made. Further, there is the risk here that uninformed politicians may believe that AC&C is actually on the way to No Kill, as the Mayor’s Alliance represents, and thus stand in the way of the forces of reform.

There is a further weakness in the current structure that a fresh look at the grant could address as well, and that is the power you have vested in the Mayor’s Alliance – and really in one person, Jane Hoffman – by virtue of your funding which she controls here. In your December 2010 letter, you stated that “Maddie’s Fund does not get involved in local politics or take positions on legislation”, but you have in fact done so by proxy here in New York City. The entity that your funding enables, the Mayor’s Alliance, has been at the forefront of some very troubling legislation here in New York, and you are helping to pay the salaries of people who write and promote this legislation.

In late 2011, New York City passed Local Law 59 of 2011. This law relieved the city of its decade old unfulfilled legal obligation to build desperately needed shelters in every borough of New York City and implemented mandatory spay neuter for cats with outdoor access. This controversial bill was partially brokered, supported, and publicly cheerled by the Mayor’s Alliance and Jane Hoffman. At the time of this writing, the advocates of New York City are fighting NYS Asw. Amy Paulin’s “Quick Kill Bill”, a disturbing piece of proposed NYS legislation that hopes to eliminate the stray hold for animals judged to be in “psychological pain”, codifies the abilities of shelters to keep rescuers out, and enacts a set of “requirements” for shelters that contain some good ideas like requiring scanning for a microchip upon entry, then completely negating those requirements with the phrase “as soon as is practicable”, rendering those requirements devoid of the force of law. Amy Paulin’s office has said that this bill was written with the input and support of the Mayor’s Alliance. Maddie’s money pays the salaries of the people advising and supporting anti-animal legislation such as this, legislation that puts many lives at risk.

I stand ready to help you as I can. I would be happy to take any representative of your organization with me incognito as I pull animals from the shelters of New York City. I believe that witnessing the falsification of medical information first hand would be invaluable to your organization as you debate a course of action.

In your editorial, you wrote “leadership is about stepping out in front and taking bold moves, not giving in to peer pressure. Leaders try to change the status quo, not maintain it”. We know the status quo in New York City is dysfunctional. Will you take the bold move of holding your partners to your plea for transparency and helping to change it?

Respectfully yours,
John B. Sibley

If you would like to contact Maddie’s and offer your own opinion, the most effective way to do so is by USPS. Their mailing address is:

2223 Santa Clara Avenue
Suite B
Alameda, CA 94501

I will report back and publish any reply received.

This entry was posted in New York City, No Kill, NYCACC, Politics, Shelter Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Linda

    Great letter. Anxious to hear their reply.

  • Sue

    Letter is right on target. I know you’ll keep us posted!

  • Ewa

    Very well written. I look forward to the response. Remember the cat you recently pulled with “fractured leg” but with no fracture? I am sure Pets Alive could have used the time and money they spent on the unnecessary vet visit and exam. I will write Mr. Avanzino.

  • Pia

    succinct, yet heartfelt. Fingers crossed.

  • Mark Ross

    Beautifully detailed letter John. Now let’s see if this guy’s just another bureaucrat or not. If he has any sincerity, you’ll hear from him and it won’t be a dismissive form letter.

  • missy

    *wipes tear*
    thank you ..this is beautiful . i dont understand why they do not pull funds,and demand changes…….And i have thoughts on all of this,that i will not post here ,but i believe a lot more than cooking the numbers going on,and the fuhrers alliance is beyond low in regard to these animals.
    I believe ones claimed to be rescued,by certain fuhrers alliance shelters,do NOT pull the animal,despite saying they have .pocket the pledges,and the animal is killed at ACC.all coodinated via the fuhrers alliance moles.Im sure of it actually …and someone gets paid for each dead animal.The fuhrer does nothing unless revenues are involved . NOTHING .This is why they want to up the death rate via kill bill .

  • Ely

    Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA give a lot of money to Miami-Dade Animal Care and Control where they have a pit bull ban. They are supporting a shelter that kills any pit bull that steps into Miami-Dade County . Miami-Dade Animal Care and Control even has a form on their website where they ask folks to rat out individuals that have pit bulls. Unbelievable that the A and Maddie’s Fund are giving that organization money, especially when the County Commissioner’s helped defeat a bill that would have gotten rid of the ban.

  • Janet

    Impressive in both breadth and scope, and full of passion. I hope you he takes you up on your offer.

  • http://www.BuffaloHumane.org Carol Tutzauer

    Leadership IS key. And failing to call the NYC Mayor’s Alliance to task is an abdication of leadership at Maddie’s. I have been raising the same issue here locally in in the Buffalo-Niagara region of New York. Since the inception of the Maddie’s Erie County Project (with which my group partnered but decided to leave), nothing has changed. How do we know? Because the RAW save rate has not budged — not one bit. The local SPCA continues its standard traditional shelter practices, even though they tout massive accomplishments, like “70% reduction in euthanasia of healthy animals.” Well, I happen to be a mathematician and statistician, as well as a social behavioral scientist. It takes nothing more than 3rd- to 6th-grade arithmetic knowledge to understand that the ONLY way you can make such claims with an unchanging overall save rate is if they are fudging on the definitions of healthy, treatable, manageable, and “unhealthy/untreatable.” After I recently raised the stagnant save rate in newspaper commentaries and on facebook postings, we now find that the Erie County SPCA won’t be issuing their 2011 year statistics until SUMMER — no doubt when people are distracted by vacations and summer activities to pay much attention to what I suspect will be yet another year of no discernable movement in raw save rate. And so it goes . . .

  • Maddie’s Fund

    We applaud the work you’re doing for the animals and the fantastic job being done by the rescue community to save animal lives. We are in agreement on the importance of transparency and accountability. We have a difference of opinion, however, on how accuracy in reporting public data is assured.

    It seems to Maddie’s Fund that government agencies that are required to publicly report data should be monitored at the community level to provide honest and accurate information. For example, in New York City, the mayor, elected officials, rescue groups, the animal welfare community, the media and the citizens of New York are in the best position to determine the honesty and accuracy of AC&C’s reporting and to demand that inaccuracies be corrected; Maddie’s Fund is not.

    Here is additional information about the Maddie’s Fund position regarding New York City – http://www.maddiesfund.org/Documents/Funded%20Projects/Maddies%20Fund%20NYC%20Grant.pdf

    • Eileen McFall

      Of course accountability should happen at the community level–and it’s not happening there. Of course it should also happen at the funder level, and it’s not happening there, either. Animals continue to be mistreated and killed, and all you’re concerned about is shifting the responsibility.

      If you can’t–and don’t even care to–make sure your money is well spent to achieve your mission, then you don’t deserve your non-profit foundation status and tax breaks that go along with it. And you sure lose credibility and legitimacy. Maddie’s Fund = lost cause, just like PETA. HSUS, and ASPCA. So long, I hope you fade into utter obscurity very, very soon.

      • jbsibley

        Unfortunately they’re not a non profit. They’re a privately funded charitable foundation, which is one of the reasons they don’t care about public opinion (or, evidently, funding institutional torture): they don’t have to.

    • http://www.townsandtrails.com Dave

      Maddie’s Fund,

      You state that “rescue groups, the animal welfare community, the media and the citizens of New York are in the best position to determine the honesty and accuracy of AC&C’s reporting” – well, we are all telling you, as a grant giver, that their reporting is not accurate.

      This is easily verifiable and does not require a tortured review of data. Simply go to one of these shelters and see for yourself. The author of this blog has volunteered to take you to prove this point, and I am sure just about any rescue will do the same.

      Healthy, adoptable animals are being killed. No reasonable person I know would deny this.

      Were we wrong to assume you would be interested in knowing this? After all, YOU are the ones who made the “zero healthy deaths” a requirement of your grant.

  • jbsibley

    There you have it folks: Maddie’s doesn’t mind being played for fools. The only reason detailed shelter data is public in NYC is that they require it (it’s not required by the government to be public, and certainly not in their format). They will continue to pay millions for cooked books and will do nothing to improve the status quo.

    Their pleas for transparency are empty talk, their talk of leadership meaningless. Do not look to them for leadership; they will only fund people who tell them what they want to hear.

    Looks like we’re committed to the status quo through 2015. As long as the group providing the largest source of private funding to rescue in NYC is happy with the status quo, happy to flush money down the drain, happy to fund anti-animal legislation and animal abuse in city shelters, nothing is likely to change.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • jbsibley

    It’s indicative of the care you have for the issue that you link a letter that I refer to and link in the blog as if no one has seen it…

  • Kerry Clair

    Yeah ibtried reaching out to them once too. Same stuff. Sigh. No one really cares. No one. I’m about done.

  • Rena

    No longer will I support organizations satisfied touting the “not my problem” excuse. Lives are at stake. To have my support you must be brave and ethical.

  • Anonymous For A Reason

    So long as Maddie’s allows local organizations to define “unhealthy/untreatable” any way they want to define it, so they can say “XYZ shelter doesn’t kill any healthy/adoptable animals”, nothing will change.

    In my community, “unhealthy/untreatable” has been defined by our local high-kill-for-cats county shelter to include: feral, semi-feral, scared, URI if their isolation ward is full, feleuk-positive even if no clinical signs, cats surrendered for litter box issues, and bottle-feeder puppies/kittens if their foster homes are full.

    They transfer feral/semi-feral/scared cats to a local rescue that is TRULY no-kill except for genuinely untreatable medical issues, which allows the county shelter to claim that they do save a lot of “unhealthy/untreatables”. Maddie’s doesn’t seem to care so long as they see zero kills in the categories they deem “adoptable”. I will say the shelter has a very good attitude toward the pitties and does a good job finding homes for them.

    I’d think Dave and Cheryl Duffield, who founded Maddie’s, would want a better return on the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve invested. I’d like to think I would, if I had that kind of money.

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  • Trisha C.

    Hi John, Have you received a response in regards to your letter and offer to expose the AC&C?

  • Tip Burrows

    “It seems to Maddie’s Fund that government agencies that are required to
    publicly report data should be monitored at the community level to
    provide honest and accurate information. For example, in New York City,
    the mayor, elected officials, rescue groups, the animal welfare
    community, the media and the citizens of New York are in the best
    position to determine the honesty and accuracy of AC&C’s reporting
    and to demand that inaccuracies be corrected; Maddie’s Fund is not.”

    What? So Maddie’s Fund is content to dole out millions of dollars ostensibly meant to save lives…yet you are not monitoring how this money is spent or to what end? You are trusting a known corrupt system including the Mayors Alliance (what a joke that is) and once they pat you on the head, you are quite fine with your millions being wasted and NOT saving animal lives. I think the founders of Maddie’s Fund must be rolling over in their graves, shame shame shame on you. This defies all reasonable logic and makes my heart hurt. So you really do not care what your money is used for? Again I say all you have to do is look at the nightly published lists of healthy or treatable animals slated to die the next morning to know your funds are not being used to save lives. Shame on Maddie’s Fund.

    And by the way can I get a million dollar grant for MY shelter and not have to be accountable for what we do with it? Please tell me where to sign up for this. Only we actually WOULD use it to save lives and make a difference and we would be happy to be completely open and accountable. I bet there are many many shelters and rescues out there who would put your money to the use it was intended for.

    I still cannot believe this. It defies all logic and reason and is just plain SAD. Makes me sick.

  • Mike Fry

    Excellent letter!

  • Barbara922

    Excellent!

  • http://twitter.com/TheCraftafarian Lindsay

    So their reply basically said: Whoever is in charge of those animals or lives near them is a better judge of their medical condition than Maddie’s Fund? That’s wasn’t John’s point! The point was he thinks info about these animals is being falsified so they can kill them. He wants Maddie’s fund to read over notes from animals he pulls to help show that the shelter is falsifying records. Way to do nothing, again, Maddie’s Fund.

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