NYCACC’s Sandy Shutdown

Since Hurricane Sandy animals have been pouring into New York City Animal Care & Control (NYCACC). They have locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island but the Staten Island location was evacuated prior to the storm’s arrival and animals transferred to the other two shelters. Their computer systems were down for several days and they stopped killing animals as they battened down the hatches to ride out the storm.

By midweek this week they were full to bursting and as some normalcy returned to New York City their New Hope staff, the staff that interfaces with rescues, began to reach out to partner rescues to ease some of the crowding at NYCACC. Rescues responded and over 100 animals were placed in less than 24 hours.

One of the rescues contacted was Pets Alive Westchester, who immediately agreed to take 30+ cats even though this is one of their most difficult times of year – the approaching winter means that their heating bills are about to skyrocket and donations have been down.

I immediately started planning to transport the animals out of NYCACC the next day. Travelling in and out of Manhattan from my home in the Bronx is very difficult at this point. Traffic and police activity cause long and unpredictable backups. There is a massive gas shortage that makes refueling very difficult, with gas rationing and lines to refuel stretching 10 blocks or more. Finally there are travel restrictions in place to enter Manhattan: to enter the city between 6am and midnight you need to have at least 3 people in your car.

I had 5/8ths of a tank of gas, which would be enough for the day’s errands if everything went well. On Thursday night just after midnight, I drove my car over the bridge to Manhattan, parked it there for the night, and walked home.

On Friday morning I woke up and walked back over the bridge to my car. I was due at NYCACC Manhattan at 9:30AM and I ended up walking in at about 9:45. The shelters typically open at 8am but right now they’re on limited hours (opening at noon) and limited services, which I found odd – they certainly seemed to have plenty of staff milling about, including uniformed Department of Health staff and someone washing the sidewalks. I’m going to assume that when someone is hosing down the sidewalks you’re in pretty good shape. I knocked on the door, which was locked, and was allowed in. I met a new New Hope staff member there – I regret that I did not catch his name – and he was already in the process of getting the cats together whom I was pulling. I also handed him a list of small dogs who were known to be in the shelter and said I would like to add two small dogs to today’s pull, then settled down to wait.

A couple was in the lobby who had also been let in before the official “limited” opening time. The woman was crying with joy – they had finally found their beloved dog, who had been lost before the storm and the hurricane had put their search on a temporary hold. They were so happy to have her back, but they couldn’t have her back. NYCACC requires proof of ownership that is rather draconian at the best of times. Here’s what you need to reclaim a lost dog:

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I regularly hear this conversation in their lobby from people who simply can’t believe that they need to be carrying 2 notarized letters or vet records. Most people don’t think to bring that kind of thing with them when searching frantically for a beloved pet.

Additionally, there was another complication: their dog was not spayed and New York law requires that all animals be spayed or neutered prior to their release from a shelter, even owned dogs being reclaimed by their owners. NYCACC charges $150 for that service and the surgery will done in a filthy, disease-ridden environment. Some vets at NYCACC are better than others. Some have an alarming number of surgery deaths. You don’t get a choice. I see the intent of this law, but the application of it has gone horribly, horribly wrong in the NYC shelter system. It encourages people to abandon their pets to be killed.

The couple was incredulous, then angry. They couldn’t believe they had finally found their dog and now they would not be able to take her home. After much argument it was discovered that their dog could, in fact, go home: she had been wearing an expired license that constituted proof of ownership, so that requirement was satisfied. She had also been at AC&C long enough to get sick, as all animals will who are there long enough. Because they do not do surgery on sick animals, their dog was eligible for a spay/neuter waiver – a $150 deposit is left and the dog must be brought back when well for surgery or proof of surgery must be presented to reclaim the deposit. Because the AC&C has mistreated her and failed to protect her from illness, she could go home… for only $218 total.

The sheer stupidity of it is mind boggling. There are a lot of animals lost right now, and a lot of people looking for them because of the storm. Do they expect someone who’s just lost their home to present vet records? Will they sock them with hefty reclaim fees? There was not a lot of flexibility in evidence.

Essentially, if you lose your animal in NYC and NYCACC picks them up, they are held for ransom: pay up or they’re at risk of death. Oh, and they’re at risk of death anyway. Illness or risky surgery, take your pick.

My cats were ready so I loaded the car and went back to see what dogs they had available for me. I was informed by the New Hope coordinator that their computer system was down so they could not release any more animals right now. I think my head just about exploded. They called us due to overcrowding. They asked us to take as many as we could. And now here I was, standing there in front of her, asking to take more animals, and I was being told no. She suggested that I come back later, which was an impossibility – as I explained to her, gas was extremely scarce and I had to plan this transport very carefully. I was one of the few rescuers in NYC at the moment who had a car, gas, was standing in front of her and was offering to take animals. She stood firm. They would not be released. I prayed that none of the dogs I wanted to take would make the kill list as I stormed out, got in my car, and headed for Brooklyn where I hoped to find some staff who could possibly think creatively to save lives.

Later I would find out why their computers were down: a router needed to be restarted. Animals are at risk due to a computer system that is less than robust and has been down for several days. Time to invest in some distributed cloud servers… and an offline backup.

Off to Brooklyn, which was a pleasure by comparison – although there’s that “limited service” thing again.

Here’s what greeted me when I pulled up:

Not very inviting. I opened the gate myself and walked up to the front door, which like Manhattan was locked. This one had a sign:

Again I knocked and stated my case before I was let in. Although I arrived before the opening of their “limited” hours I left long after their new noon opening time and the gate stayed closed, the front door locked. It is very clear to me that one of the ways that NYCACC is weathering the storm is by simply not doing their job: they are “open” in name only. Everything is set up to discourage you from entering and allow them to not let you in if they don’t want to help you. They’ve gone from doing much of their job poorly to not doing much of it at all – and this after being completely closed to the public for several days. Animal “Receiving Centers” (intake only) in the Bronx and Queens have been closed since the storm, and the Staten Island shelter remains closed as well. I wonder how many animals field services brought into the shelters in that time. Did they bring in any, or just drive around and look busy?

Their computers were up (I guess someone knows how to reset a router in Brooklyn), the cats were quickly ready, and New Hope staffer Jessica walked me though the shelter to meet available dogs. I was happy to see that Brooklyn was well staffed, clean, and not overcrowded – so WHY NOT BE OPEN? Jessica was extremely helpful and staffers helped me load my car and select two dogs in addition to the 35 cats in the car. I was quickly loaded, paperwork completed, and transported everyone safely to Pets Alive Westchester – who, by the way, could use your help if you feel inclined to do so (follow the link!). Mass rescues aren’t cheap and animals coming from NYCACC almost always need veterinary care above and beyond the usual due to the illnesses that run unchecked at the shelters.

This is Lexi, a small Shiba/Beagle mix. She’s pretty happy to be alive.

New York has actually had a taste of No Kill this week. The shelter hasn’t had a kill list in, I think, 5 days. It’s good that they’ve had a sample: No Kill starts as an act of will, a determination to do anything but kill. But as a city contractee with certain duties to the public, they shouldn’t be allowed to ignore them for their own convenience, which appears to be what has happened. They essentially seem to have stopped services nearly completely for a few days other than basic care for their resident animals, which is completely unacceptable. But what if they combined the reaching out for help when they need it, as they displayed this week, with a determination to do the right thing, employees not locked into dogmatic policy but given the liberty to pursue common sense and lifesaving, and maybe some basic skills like learning how to do effective adoptions? Because as depressing as today was, by the end of it I saw what was possible here and I am more convinced than ever that with reformation of the shelter system we could see both the end of the nightly kill list AND the services that the shelters are contracted to provide to the public, services that are all the more critical in times of crisis. This will be one of the untold stories of Sandy: faced with a challenge, a vital contractor to the City of New York simply stopped performing some of their duties. The good news is that once they crumble, as they will eventually, I believe that goal is as possible here as anywhere.

This entry was posted in New York City, No Kill, NYCACC, Pets Alive Westchester, Shelter Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.
  • thomas scopac

    At the last board meeting , Julie expressed concerns about people not being able to afford the reclaim fees and she was planning on creating a donation fund specifically to subsidize the fees as many people are not reclaiming due to the fiscal burden.

    • http://twitter.com/jbsibley John Sibley

      Offhand, I’d say that plan has gone nowhere and Julie is now gone. Why not just give the staff the power to waive fees in time of – say – A GIANT HURRICANE, among other understandable circumstances?

  • http://twitter.com/puparazzi Lisa Penosky

    As long as NYACC is allowed to profit off owners attempting to reclaim animals, they have no incentive to release them. It would certainly lessen their work load to just hand over those animals who have owners coming to claim them after the storm!

    Maybe the system should be set up with NYACC receiving some sort of contract bonus for every animal adopted out or reunited with an owner.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keith.royer.5 Keith Royer

      IT IS COMPLETELY INSANE FOR THE CITY TO GAIN OR EVEN BE REIMBURSED FOR THE CARE OF IT’S CITIZENS PETS DURING A STATE OF EMERGENCY. THE FED PROVIDES TONS OF MONEY AND SO DOES FIMA AND THE STATE TOO. TO EXPECT PEOPLE WHO HAVE JUST LOST EVERYTHING, INCLUDING SOME LIVES, TO BE ABLE TO PAY RECLAIM FEES IS JUST UNACCEPTABLE AND LORD FAT MOUTH SHOULD STAND UP, WITH HELP IF NEEDED, AND PUT AN END TO THIS PRACTICE. tHEY WOULD RATHER KILL A CITIZENS DOG THAN RETURN IT AFTER ” SAVING IT” FOR THEM? tHEN i WOULD SAY JUST LEAVE MY DOG ALONE, WHO THE HELL GAVE YOU THE RIGHT TO BASICALLY KIDNAP MY ANIMAL? WOULD THEY CHARGE TO REUNITE PARENTS AND CHILDREN? GRANDPARENTS AND PARENTS? OF COURSE NOT, BECAUSE YOU DON’T CHARGE TO REUNITE A FAMILY, AND ANIMALS ARE FAMILY MEMBERS YOU IDIOTS. tHE PEOPLE WHO HAVE PETS BEING HELD HOSTAGE BY NYACC SHOULD FLOOD 911 CENTERS AND REPORT A KIDNAPPING OR THEFT. CRAM THE FAT BOYS FAX MACHINES AND E-MAILS WITH LETTERS AND PHOTO’S OF THE INCARCERATED ANIMALS ,GO PUBLIC TO THE NEWS AND ASK WHY IN THIS DIRE TIME OF NEED IS THE STATE KEEPING YOU FROM REUNITING WITH YOUR FAMILY MEMBER WHEN YOU ARE BARELY ABLE TO FEED YOUR FAMILY WITH YOUR HOUSE AND BUSINESSES GONE. SPEAK UP, PROTEST, IF THEY HAD MY PUP I CAN PROMISE YOU THAT EVERY ONE WHO WILL LISTEN WOULD KNOW ABOUT IT AND I WOULD PARK MY ASS THERE WITH CAMARA AND LAPTOP TO RECORD THE PEOPLE BEING TURNED AWAY WITHOUT THEIR BABIES, THIS IS NOT NAZI GERMANY IN 1942, THIS IS THE USA IN 2012, FREE OUR PETS, WITHOUT COST, I’VE NEVER HEARD SUCH A MESSED UP IDEA BY THE GOVERMENT IN MY LIFE, SHAME ON YOU GOV. CHRISTY FOR FAILING TO PROTECT THE FAMILY MEMBERS YOU SWORE TO SERVE, YOU SHOULD QIUT. ( AND GO ON A DIET)

      • http://twitter.com/jbsibley John Sibley

        I was with you up until Christie.

      • To Changeadogslife

        This topic is about New York Animal Care and Control. The Mayor is Bloomberg not Mayor Christy of New Jersey!.

  • frogi

    Why don’t they just LOWER the fees or offer financing or a waiver for low-income owners ON THE SPOT, in consideration of the storm?

    • http://www.facebook.com/marge.allen.161 Marge Allen

      Why in hell should they, they should just give the animal back dam it this was a horiffic storm and people lost everything and you think people should have to FINANCE TO GET PART OF THEIR FAMILY BACK REALLY WHAT WORLD DO YOU COME FROM THE WORLD OF THE RICH they should be just given back to their right ful owners PERIOD THOSES DAM HELL HOLES STEAL ENOUGH MONEY AS IT IS JUST TO SAVE AN ANIMAL THEY GET PAID AND THEY SHOULDNT THEY ARE NOTHING BUT PURE HELL HOLES WITH IDIOTS RUNNING IT.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Squires-Author/100000074543706 Susan Squires Author

    Why do they make it so hard ??

  • db

    Obviously, many of the people have no heart – all the killing has robbed them of their humanity. I’m sorry for the animals and the people who do (or could have) loved them.

  • MRo

    What can NYC residents do to help in the short term and longterm?

    • db

      I’m not in the area, but I’d guess to either foster or adopt. You might contact local rescues to see what they need, too. Hope John can answer that question for you.

    • http://www.johnsibley.com/ John Sibley

      Adopt. Or chain yourself to the front door.

  • Lucy

    They actually killed ALOT, just didn’t release any Lists.

  • To Changeadogslife

    THE ACC CONTINUED TO KILL – THEY JUST DIDN’T GIVE A LIST…. THE ONLY CONCERN AT THIS HELL HOLE IS TO MAKE MONEY AND KILL ANIMALS! THEY TRY EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER TO NOT HAVE ADOPTIONS TAKE PLACE. IT IS A DISGRACE FOR NEW YORK AND THE USA! AT A TIME WHEN THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN RESCUING AND HELPING THE COMMUNITY, THEY WERE BUSINESS AS USUAL–KILLING…. ONLY ANIMALS THAT WERE DYING WERE SUPPOSED TO BE EUTHANIZED BUT THEY GIVE VERY TREATABLE EXCUSES FOR THE MURDERS. THEY LIE ABOUT EVERYTHING TO COVER UP THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET. I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHY THEY JUST CAN’T TRY TO SAVE LIVES AND WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE EVEN IN THERE? HIRE COMPASSIONATE PEOPLE FOR THE JOB – PEOPLE THAT WILL DO WHAT THE JOB IS INTENDED TO DO — CARE FOR AND SAVE ANIMALS!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ClassicRock35 Classic Rock

    did you ever get those dogs in Manhatten??? sounds like all the shelters, the system needs to change

  • http://twitter.com/BarbaraSmith922 Barbara Smith

    John this is an amazing piece that really encompasses what goes on everyday at NYACC. Your experience should be shared with Mayor Bloomberg, there are incompetent people working there and there has to be some doanight breaking laws. legalities

  • http://twitter.com/BarbaraSmith922 Barbara Smith

    Ok I was n’t through :-) I think this experience you logged is critical in attempts to clean up the Shelters, of course on the road to NO KILL. Is this something you can submit to the NY Times? People need to know “A day in the life of saving animals from the NY shelter” Even though it was during a hurricane, I’m sure this is what happens on a daily basis. Making it so hard to adopt/save animals who otherwise would be killed. Your piece is invaluable and I just feel like it should be used, exposed. The workers are insensitive, rigid, on a power trip, and are putting upaas many roadblocks to adopt as they can. We need your piece, just not sure where yet. Do you know Kay Riviello? I believe she is taking the ACC to court regarding killing the animals when they are aware a rescue is on their way to pick up the animaloing to c

    • http://www.johnsibley.com/ John Sibley

      I know of her. Kind of a loose cannon. Her suit will be dismissed for lack of standing, as was every lawsuit preceding it. It’s not a new tactic. I talk to reporters on a daily basis, something may yet come of it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/BarbaraSmith922 Barbara Smith

    Cut me off again! Anyway your piece may be helpful with that litigation. Thanks for doing what you do.
    Barbara Smith