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?
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
Alameda, CA 94501
I will report back and publish any reply received.