Biggie Smalls & The NYCACC Kill List

I didn’t have any intention of adopting that day in Feb – with 5 large dogs and four cats in a two bedroom apartment, I have quite enough on my hands, and I try not to spend much time looking at the New York City Animal Care Center (NYCACC or simply ACC) kill list because I know I am weak.

And then there was Biggie.

I’m not sure where I caught sight of her first but I couldn’t get her listing out of my mind. She is 15 years old and long blind, with eye disease, glaucoma and luxated (detached) lenses. That landed her a dreaded “4” medical rating, for animals with severe medical conditions, and some notes about her attitude to boot.

I was up most of the night thinking about her. The next day I asked a New Hope rescue (one that is registered to pull from the shelter) to pull her for me before the list closed and I went to pick her up.

She is not nearly as bad as the listing made her sound. Our first stop was my vet, where her bloodwork and most of her checkup proved normal. Our second stop was a veterinary opthamologist; she will remain blind for life but her glaucoma is now well controlled through eye drops which are easy to administer. She is not in pain and has no need of pain control. Finally, she had extensive dental disease so once she had settled in all but one of her teeth were removed.

IMG_4052While she does not like strangers much, within days she was completely attached to me; it is not so surprising that an elderly, 9lb, blind dog should be terrified in a shelter. She loves to sleep at my side (or in my lap) and loves to snuggle and burrow under the covers. Surprisingly, she also loves travel, cars, and new places – set her down and she’ll set off happily exploring and gently bumping into things. She sleeps most of the day and has rock-solid house training. She completely rules the household, having announced to one and all cats and dogs on the day of her arrival that she was now in charge – and they accepted it, instantly. My big 75lb boy, Leo, doesn’t let ANY dog lay down rules like that in HIS house – but he accepted her as The Boss instantly and none have touched a hair on her head. She doesn’t want to interact with them, but she’s completely comfortable around them and they’re completely comfortable around her.

So I had to do a bit of work, a bit of expense, and a bit of puzzle solving. But for that I got in return a sweet and loving animal who is perhaps the easiest dog to care for I have ever had. While she’s blind and old, her disease is not progressing, she is in no pain, and she is fully capable of enjoying her life.

Do I feel great about adopting her under threat of harm? I do not. Does it give me warm fuzzy feelings about that process? It does not.


New York City releases a list every night around 6pm. It is officially named the “at risk” list, but most New York City advocates call it the kill list. The name is a euphemism; these animals are not at risk of a good cuddling but of a needle of poison. The list has two portions: a list of animals who are available only to ACC partner (New Hope) rescues and a list of animals who are available to the public and to rescue as well.

You can see the public portion of the list daily on the NYCACC website beginning at 6pm until it closes at noon the following day. The shelter does not publicly provide information on the animals available only to rescue, nor is the list especially easy to access – one has to enter a considerable amount of personal data to see the list, and no tools are provided for social media networking or commentary. Facebook-based groups have sprung up to make the complete list available in a format that makes it easy to share individual animals or the entire list on social media as well as add commentary, information, links, and fundraising for groups that pull the animals. Some of the information on these freewheeling groups – especially in the comments – is not accurate, which is a thorn in the shelter’s side, but they have yet to provide a competing, better system. The two groups have formed a symbiotic but uneasy relationship: neither side likes the other but they both need the other, and as much as the shelter cries that it’s not a kill list, just an “at risk” list, they reap the benefit (and look the other way) when outside groups use the threat of death to drive adopters their way. It has been enormously effective in getting animals out of the shelter: on an average day, the majority of animals on the daily kill list are pulled by New Hope rescues or adopted by members of the public.


ACCMake no mistake: Feb of 2016 (the last month of available data) was the most successful lifesaving month in the entire history of NYCACC, with a live release rate of 94.1%. This is, if you will excuse my French, fucking amazing. It is an incredible save rate for New York and a massive step forward for the shelter.

February is a pretty good month in the Northeast for lifesaving, generally speaking. Sheltering is a seasonal business and intake tends to slow in the colder months, especially cat intake. It’s a great time to show the world what you’re capable of and to regroup for the spring, which brings kitten season. This February was kind to NYCACC. Even with fairly mild temperatures, intake was around 60% of average – quite slow. The shelters had rows of empty cages. But the kill list marched on, typically with 10-20 animals listed per day.

New York’s Shelter Reform Action Committee recently pointed out that the kill list has been an amazingly successful marketing tool for the shelter, representing a significant portion of their live release at reduced effort for them. But February made it very clear that it is a marketing tool used even when it is not necessary, presumably to place animals that would take more than average time, effort or medical resources (and probably sometimes as a method of disease control). There isn’t any reason to kill list dogs like Biggie in small-dog-crazy New York, for instance, other than that she takes some not insignificant investment to save. In February, most of the animals not pulled by New Hope groups or adopted by the public from the list were simply either removed or re-listed again the next day.


Why is this important?

national-lampoon-january-1973-if-you-don-t-buy-this-magazine-we-ll-kill-this-dogIn the recent past the shelter has undergone a huge transformation that has resulted in a historic increase in lifesaving and a live release rate unheard of in New York’s history. But it’s hard to convince people of that improvement, especially people who never set foot in a shelter facility, when their only interface with the shelter is seeing the daily list of animals threatened with death. It is simply devastating for public relations – it encourages people not to come to the shelter, to work against the shelter, to not volunteer, to not donate, to not support – even, perhaps, to not adopt. Some of it is barely worth the trouble it causes; it is extremely unusual for a cat to be pulled from the public list by a member of the public.

I am contacted on a regular basis by people who do not live in New York City, many at great distances, who seek to educate me on WHAT REALLY GOES ON at a shelter that LOVES TO KILL with the HIGHEST KILL RATE IN AMERICA. None of that of course is true, and if they’d ever spent any time in shelter facilities they’d know that. But they don’t know of the shelter statistics, closely tracked and verified by New York advocates. They don’t know of the improvement in facilities, in staffing, in funding, in the treatment of animals in general. All they know is the kill list, because that’s all they see.


It is very, very difficult to even consider discontinuing the use of a tool that was responsible, by Shelter Reform Action Committee’s calculations, for 22% of 2015s Live Release Rate. I understand that. I understand that it’s been enormously effective. I also understand that it engenders the dislike and distrust that is the fuel powering New York’s shelter rescue engine – fuel that will either substantially impede future improvements or make current ones unsustainable. To take the next step – to reach higher – there is no question: New York must leave the kill list behind.

I’m well aware this is not original thought. I know this debate takes place inside the shelter on a daily basis. We are now in uncharted waters; New York City would be by far the largest shelter in terms of intake to crack the 90% yearly mark, and some tactics that work well in smaller markets do not adapt well here due strictly to the volume involved. But there are some obvious potential steps forward, and I’m sure others will chime in with what I’ve missed – this list is by no means a complete solution, but it’s a few ways to start.

– End the use of the list for convenience placement of more difficult to place animals. Make it narrowly focused on animals that are actually due to be killed in shelter as a temporary step until the day the list can be eliminated. Develop and publish the long-awaited evaluation matrix, as called for by the Asliomar Accords, so that everyone may be on the same page what is considered healthy, treatable, or not treatable in New York City and what the criteria are for kill listing an animal – something that should be reserved for the untreatable and the suffering.

– Focus New Hope staff on further developing personal partnerships with New Hope rescues. New Hope rescues are currently a sleeping giant – there are more than 250 New Hope rescues approved to pull animals from NYCACC, but most pull very few. The majority of registered New Hope rescues pull fewer than 10 animals per year, and a tiny handful represent the majority of the rescue pulls in NYC. This is an untapped market.

One of the most phenomenally successful New Hope counselors in recent memory, a specialist in cat placement, approached her job differently than others in the past. She set out to learn everything she could about the rescues she worked with, their needs and their abilities. When she had animals appropriate for a certain rescue, she reached out to them personally by phone or text. The rescues have her personal cell number, she has theirs. She built trusting relationships with rescues that helped to effectively move a tremendous number of animals out in a way that was satisfying to both parties, with a bond of trust. Embrace this model of personal relationships and pursue rescue. Court rescue. Call rescues that don’t pull much and ask why, and what could be done differently to help them. Encourage personal contact. Go see them. Have them come see you.

When I was pulling animals for rescue there was nothing quite as effective as when I showed up to pick up animals from the list and a New Hope counselor pitched me to take additional animals that they wanted to get out. I cherished those people, and I bent over backwards to say yes to pull those animals. We’re all somewhat immune to appeals on a screen, especially those who look at them all day. It is much harder to deny an appeal from someone you know who contacts you personally seeking your help.

– Beef up the foster program. When last publicly disclosed, New York had very few foster families for a city of our size and shelter intake. One of the major barriers to attracting fosters has historically been the number of orientation and training sessions required, and hopefully those could be streamlined. This could give the shelter more places to send animals who need isolation and a drop in stress to beat disease, or a little time for a more careful behavioral evaluation for a scared animal. Many of these homes are located where the shelter has the least presence – many homes with an extra room or a backyard are in the Bronx and Queens. The shelter has been beefing up their presence in these traditionally underserved boroughs and more attention to them can’t come fast enough.

– Market animals who need a little something extra in a positive way, both through daily notice via emails to rescue and publicly as well. Develop on-line outreach that takes advantage of both direct email to rescues/public and social media to focus attention on animals who are more difficult to place, but without the risk of death. Make sure this social media outreach makes it as easy as possible for other people to share, add information, add pictures, pitch animals to rescue, and donate to orgs who pull them. An easy way to start would be a Facebook page devoted to animals who need a little something special.

– Continue efforts to stop the spread of preventable in-shelter disease. Currently most animals on the list have some form of illness, and many of them acquired that illness in the shelter. There needs to be a continued, laser-like focus on maintaining the health of animals in the shelter’s care. This has improved considerably recently, with an obvious focus on not only handling procedures but reducing length-of-stay as much as possible to reduce exposure to disease while animals are in a vulnerable state. Don’t let up. Keep reaching. The New Hope rescues need the assurance that everything possible is being done to cut in-shelter disease transmission and that the shelter is being as transparent as possible about conditions of animals.


The engine of shelter rescue in NYC cannot run forever on the fuel of hate. It is a caustic fuel that eventually destroys all that it touches. The time is now to look to the future and to replace it with a fuel that is sustainable: partnership, transparency and trust.

There was once a time when the best way to advocate for change in the shelter was to advocate, metaphorically speaking, for burning it down. That time has passed. The proof is in the lifesaving, and I have indications that March numbers will be equally impressive. It’s time for advocates to shift from how to tear the shelter down to how to help the shelter reach higher.

IMG_3233I don’t feel good about the manner in which I got Biggie. It is disappointing and disheartening to me that an organization I support threatened her life in order to place her. But I understand why, I get the efficacy of the available tool.

It’s time to build some new ones. What would you build?

N.B.: It would be a mistake at this point to not treat animals on the nightly kill lists as if they are in the gravest of danger; no one external to the shelter can tell you if any given animal will actually be killed or not. For the moment the animals on the list should ALWAYS be considered in immediate danger of death.

Posted in No Kill, NYCACC | Leave a comment

In Praise of the NYPD (And the MTA, and a Few Other People…)

IMG_3364Have you heard about Subway Dunford? He’s my little kitty celebrity, the cat who stopped the 6 train. He’s had TV news stories about him and has even made the Huffington Post. But there are a few people involved in his rescue who I think are under-recognized (and I’ve certainly been over-recognized, probably because he’s my foster!) and I’d like to make sure they get the credit they really deserve.

I arrived at a subway grate on 138th St a week ago not knowing much. A local rescue that I sometimes volunteer for, Magnificat, had asked me to come down and check out a cat stuck in the subway. I arrived on a motorcycle, determined what we’d need, and quickly popped home to grab a trap and some supplies.

imageThe cat was stuck in an airway under a sidewalk grate. You see these grates all over New York City, they lead to large open airways that ventilate the subway system. Volunteer Nancy Giron had beat me there and had brought supplies as well. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was just the latest person to show up in a process that had lasted days. Another person turned up, Angela Dawn. Angela and her husband Ian Dunford, whom the cat was eventually named after, had discovered the trapped cat days ago and had been desperately trying to find help – she had called, tweeted, begged every agency she could find and the cat was still there. Passers-by had kept him alive for weeks by dropping food through the grate to him. After a few days of dead ends, she encouraged her social media followers to make his story viral to try to find someone who could help him, and that’s when Magnificat found out.

cat22n-1-web (1)I also didn’t know at the time that there was also a small army of highly connected people working their phones and personal contacts at the NYPD and MTA to try to get help. I know that Kylie Edmond, Sharon Renay, Linda Gage of Best Friends and Joyce Friedman of the HSUS were instrumental in that, and I’m sure there were more people I don’t know about.

Not knowing any of this at the time and with the approval of the NYPD officer on the scene, I took a crowbar and started to hunt for a loose grate to lower a baited trap into the airway. These grates are usually cemented down but they typically leave one or more loose for access. Then a 3-man MTA crew showed up, and instead of yelling at me, they got their tools to pull the grate. Two MTA supervisors came as well.

12734089_10100352433487607_2337591795388870176_nMore NYPD had arrived by this time: NYPD Transit District 12 was on the scene and NYPD ESU (Emergency Services Unit) pulled up. The MTA crew got a grate loose and lowered a ladder from their truck, but we had a stroke of bad luck: as they were climbing down into the airway, a dog owned by a curious passer-by barked and spooked the cat, who took off running.

NYPD had a special access key to a pop-up sidewalk hatch near the airway that was for an emergency subway exit. There was a large gap between the access stairway and the airway that we didn’t think the cat could jump, but he had. NYPD went down to take a look (ESU carries catch poles) and he’d made his way onto the tracks.

That’s when something happened that really amazed me. The ranking NYPD officer on the scene immediately asked the MTA supervisor to cut the power to the third rail so that the officers could check the tracks for the cat, even though that would interrupt subway service. Power cut, the officers went down to search the tracks but the cat was now frantic. Fortunately, he had circled back to the emergency exit stairway.

A new plan was formed: we knew where he was, but he was too worked up to catch. I loaned the officers a humane trap and showed them how to bait it. The trap would sit in the stairwell, and the officers of Transit District 12 would use their special key to check the trap every few hours. I’m sure someone will be chiming in here to say you should never leave a trap unattended, which is generally true, but in this case it was the lesser of two evils: he was very much in danger if he found his way to the tracks again, and absolutely no one had access to this area except the NYPD and MTA.

IMG_3291After 24 hours, Subway Dunford hit the trap. I immediately got a call from the officers who found him and went to pick him up, and he’s now in foster with me for Magnificat until he finds a home. He is fantastic – he is affectionate and loves attention and he’s getting along well with all of my many dogs and cats.

My contribution to all of this was actually rather small – I just brought a trap. For safety reasons (which is totally understandable), civilians aren’t generally allowed down in the subway tunnels. I just wanted to say that while I am grateful for every single person who assisted in the rescue, I am especially thankful to the officers of NYPD Transit District 12. Unfortunately the only names I got were of officers Yates And Daly, who found Subway Dunford the cat in the trap, and Deputy Inspector Wynn. But there were many more officers on the scene that evening, and they were genuinely concerned for the welfare of this animal. A few told me about their own cats at home and how much they wanted to save him. Without them going above and beyond the call of duty, because they genuinely cared, he would not be safe today. I am very grateful.

Posted in Cats, New York City, South Bronx | Leave a comment

Saving Bronx Cats Concludes!

I will be writing to everyone who contributed, but I wanted to post a public thank you and let everyone know that I’ve concluded the Saving Bronx Cats project, spaying and neutering 35 cats from an overcrowded apartment in the Bronx. A total of seven were removed and placed with local adoption organizations and the owner has elected to keep the remaining cats, who are healthy and well cared for. I have let her know that I am available at any time to place cats for adoption should she wish. Removing the burden of caring for a constant flow of kittens has made a world of difference in the overall cleanliness and sanitation of the apartment.

This could easily have turned into a public health emergency or a ruined building, and the cycle of reproduction and death would have gone on for years. I am so very thankful to the people who donated and to the people who helped me, most especially the ASPCA, Anjellicle Cats Rescue, Companion Animal Trust, and Little Wanderers/Lisa Winters.

Also thanking you are… Rocky, Suki, the Black Twins, Moona, Sue Ellen, John, Jesus, Negra, Cleo, Romeo, Magic, Precious, Baby Boy, Peter, Bandit, Snow White, Cinderella, Sara, Shorty, Rapunzel, Wendy, Odyssey, Sammy, 5 kittens, America, Sylvia, Shakespeare, Cosmo, Astro, and Leo.

Posted in ASPCA, Cats, South Bronx | Leave a comment

NYCLASS, Bill de Blasio, and the Shit Sandwich

I’m stepping a little out of my typical rant zone here to comment on another animal welfare fight in New York City over carriage horses.

First, a little background: NYCLASS was founded on the single issue of banning horse carriages in New York City in 2008 by Steve Nislick and Wendy Neu. Nislick happens to be a powerful real estate magnate, and it was always speculated – and denied by NYCLASS – that his interest in the issue was motivated as much by a hunger for the West Side property that horse stables now sit on as much as his love for equestria.

In our last mayoral race, NYCLASS became a power player in a big way. The group and associated individuals reportedly spent more than a million dollars to help knock former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn out of the mayoral race in favor of their preferred candidate, Bill de Blasio. They helped make animal welfare a major issue in New York City’s last mayoral race, and secured the promise from their chosen candidate that the horse carriage industry would be banned on the very first day of his administration (which the mayor cannot actually do, but never mind that). NYCLASS was on top of the world – in just a few short years they had become one of the most powerful special interest lobbying groups in New York City.

Their man was elected. de Blasio took office, and that began a series of strange and tragic missteps for the group. In a stunning display of political naivete, they celebrated and crowed about their download (5)victory when they should have been holding the new mayor’s feet to the fire. They got caught and fined for committing “campaign finance violations”, or what you and I might call bribes, or favors. They formed an ill-advised alliance with national animal welfare joke PETA and adopted some of their hard-line protest tactics against undecided members of the city council, which turned off both council members and the public. They repeated some embarrassingly bad information that wasn’t true. They were badly bruised by a New York Daily News campaign in favor of the horse trade. And they were never able to secure the needed support in the city council for a ban bill – support that was needed all along – to push a ban through.

de Blasio probably would have been wise to simply drop the issue. But he has to repay his patrons, so a new carriage horse compromise bill is currently expected to be voted on this Friday. This bill is seemingly designed to piss nearly every stakeholder involved off, and add a few new groups as well.

You may read the exact text of NYC Intro 573B here, and I suggest that you do… but here’s a quick summary.

-Limits the operation of horse-drawn carriages, with the exception of travel to and from their existing stables, to Central Park beginning June 1, 2016.
-Reduces the number of licensed horses from approximately 180 to 110 by December 1, 2016. When the Central Park stable opens, the number of licensed horses will drop to 95, with 75 horses in a long term home in Central Park stables. Horses not at work must be on furlough outside the City.
-Requires the establishment of a stable within Central Park by October 1, 2018.
-Once the stable is complete, all travel and operations will be inside Central Park, providing space for 68 carriages and 75 horses.
-Reduces the number of hours per day a carriage may operate to 9 hours in any 24-hour period beginning December 1, 2016. Increases the time window for shifts to include operation during Central Park hours.
-Pedicabs will not be permitted to operate in Central Park south of the 85th Street Transverse, beginning on June 1, 2016

The bill effectively restricts the operation of horse-drawn carriages to within Central Park, getting them out of traffic. It provides for a modest improvement in the horses’ living and working conditions and a reduction in the total number of working licenses issued by the city. But it does so at a very steep cost: taxpayers must renovate a new stable within Central Park at a current estimated cost of $25 million (a number which is likely to go up). That stable, within a public park, will be for the exclusive use of a private industry. The city will further protect the economic interests of the carriage industry by banning pedicabs from part of the park where they would compete with horse carriages. Effectively this bill trades modest improvements for the city’s official seal of approval and economic sanction of the trade as the industry’s landlord and protector.

Some people have painted this deal as a victory for incrementalism. It is not. Once the city has an economic interest in promoting the trade it will be that much harder to eliminate it.

I am not by any means a hard liner on the horse carriage issue. I probably could have lived with some deal that got the horses out of traffic (where just about any sensible person will tell you they don’t belong) and kept them within Central Park as an incremental step. But I’ll be damned if my tax money will be used for a giveaway for this industry and to secure their future and security by virtue of the protection of the city.

It’s a rotten deal for animal welfare, a rotten deal for taxpayers, and a rotten deal for the poor pedicab drivers who had no dog in this fight at all and were suddenly tossed in without any warning – although I can’t stand them in traffic either, they’re at least operating a business that doesn’t involve any animal exploitation.

And NYCLASS? In their hunger for a deal and a victory they may set back their original cause to ban horse carriages by a decade or more. They’re up to their old dishonest tricks, misleading their supporters into thinking the legislation is all pros and no cons, pivoting their messaging instantly from nothing but a total ban will do to getting them out of the streets is good enough, hustling for something before their power and influence is completely dead.

Oh, and if the bill that NYCLASS supports passes, the horses will be moved out of that valuable West Side real estate they currently occupy.

But as always, NYCLASS maintains that is just coincidence.

The bill will be discussed by the City Council this Friday, Feb 5, at 10AM. Please call your New York City Council Member and ask them to oppose Intro 573B.

UPDATE 2/4/16: The bill is dead. It is likely to be quite some time before we see another attempt at legislation. Perhaps NYCLASS can use that time to reflect on whose interests they wish to represent.

Posted in New York City | Leave a comment

NYCACC’s Annual Board Meeting: Mixed Nuts

12400571_1250824591600680_3803242392476447266_n (1)The Annual Meeting of New York City’s Animal Care Centers (NYCACC or ACC) took place on Friday, January 22. Typically, the modestly sized room was only around 60% full, as many keyboard activists had share buttons to push. We don’t know, at the moment, if there will be more than one a year – Chairman Patrick Nolan reminded us that this January yearly meeting is required. Meetings have typically been quarterly, but the last one was this past summer. How frequently will we have board meetings from here on in? We don’t know.

Chairman Nolan started off what should have been a rather celebratory meeting with a verbal attack on some of the attendees in his opening remarks, a curious choice. He was then immediately re-elected as chair.

Sometimes these meetings can be routine: this one was anything but. This one was chock full of actual, hard news and mostly good news! So let’s get to it, a summary of the high points. You may view all of the slides from Executive Director Risa Weinstock’s presentation here and I recommend that you do, I’m simply not going to be able to cover everything! You might also want to check in on the notes I took during the presentation.

thumbs_up2015 was a historic year for ACC’s live release rates and gave us some excellent statistics news. The live release rate for dogs was at 89.9&, the live release rate for cats was at 84.4%. These are record high numbers for ACC. New programs are beginning to show hard dividends: the relatively new adoptions department is increasing adoptions to the public and decreasing intake through surrender prevention, over 1000 surrender preventions are claimed. Surrender prevention is very, very important – some people really don’t want to give up their animals and helping them keep them is much better than admitting them to a shelter. ACC had a record low 4,045 euthanasias (not including owner requests) out of a relatively flat intake of 30,521 cats and dogs. This is an extremely significant decrease of 27% over last year’s euthanasias of 5540 on intake of 30,277 cats and dogs.

There is no way to categorize that other than pretty damn spectacular. It is significant progress, it is historic progress, and this management team is making more progress at a faster rate than any in ACC history. And yes, I know it’s not perfect, and we’ll get to some of that in a minute, but here’s a fact: it is safer now to be an animal in a New York City shelter than at any time in their history.

Some note was given to shelter illness, and it’s nice to see ACC continue to acknowledge there is a problem and there are things do be done about it. They say they are focusing on their cleaning protocols, vaccination on intake, reduced stress, and increased staff to animal ratio. They’re well aware of the issues, and the fact is that they will continue to struggle with shelter-borne illnesses while crammed into too-small spaces with poor workflow options. But what they’re doing isn’t enough.

It’s only relatively recently that ACC has acknowledged that they have a disease problem, and that’s good to see. They continue to claim that disease isn’t unusual in large shelters, which is true enough: what’s unique to ACC’s situation is that some of the pathogens they have running around seem to be fairly novel from what little hard data we have. Some of the treatment-resistant pneumonia, especially, has been very bad and very difficult to cure. This summer, when disease hit its peak, the ASPCA announced a $500,000 dollar fund available to rescues pulling sick animals from ACC, a fund which quickly ran dry. We can’t count on that happening again.

ACC should be the number one information source for the illness resident in their facilities and they should be as open with that data as possible. We need to know exactly what the pathogens are and what the best treatments are, and that information needs to be shared. ACC does not seem to be doing even the most basic data acquisition on this – in the comments period ED Weinstock said that New Hope partners who pull a sick animal should report that to New Hope, but admitted that the shelter has no formal tracking system for these cases. That has to change, fast. We know there’s a problem, we know it’s a very significant one – half a million dollars, gone in a flash! We don’t know exactly how significant or exactly what the pathogen(s) are because no one is tracking the full extent of the problem. ACC claims only 43 cases of confirmed pneumonia in the shelter in 2015. That seems unlikely. That’s not the sort of thing that consumes half a million dollars in treatment expense. ACC owes it to the organizations it calls partners to lead boldly on this issue and collect and share data for the good of all.

ED Weinstock announced that the three major focuses for 2016 would be to reduce intake, increase placement, and build awareness. Add “fix the medical” and I think those are some pretty good goals.

feral-cats-58d26ef342001567The second major issue, which is not unique to ACC, is cats. Their partnership with the ASPCA’s kitten nursery has had a major impact on their cat live release rate, with the ASPCA treating almost 1500 animals this past season. That will be very helpful to a point, but it is hard to see a rosy future for New York City’s cat population until a serious effort is made to TNR NYC’s free roaming cats. This is a much bigger issue than ACC, one that will likely require a significant investment by the city/DOH that I’m not really expecting to see any time soon. ACC has come up with some solutions that are helping them keep up with the demand end of the equation but eventually the City of New York has to take on the supply. The ASPCA is currently doing most of the heavy lifting on this as well, since they run the largest clinics that serve the needs of free roaming cats.

A totally unexpected bright spot in the presentation was the brief mention of ACC’s fundraising independent of the city, which hit $1.6M in 2015. That’s something I’ve been harping on for a long time: an ability to raise money independently can free them (somewhat) from the DOH and, more importantly, lead to better animal care. This is a massive, incredible improvement in their fundraising in a very short period of time – as recently as 2013 independent fundraising was less than $350,000. Since the departure of their previous Development Director development has been turbocharged, and the exciting part is that they’re still just on the ground floor and have lots of room to grow further (they even convinced me to donate in 2015). We’re a wealthy city and a city that loves animals. A hearty congratulations to Team Development: Amy Bianciella, Manager of Creative and Events and Ashley Sgarlata, Annual Giving Manager.

Ken Foster, Community Dogs Program coordinator also presented on some pilot program work he’s been doing in the Bronx, an exciting development for what has been a historically drastically underserved borough. I believe the recent community vaccination and microchip clinic there may have been the first in ACC’s history, and there is also a new pet food bank and a dog training program. The first orientation session for Bronx volunteers will be held on February 1 to allow for program growth. This is great news for the Bronx and a great start, and hopefully you’ll be able to follow progress updates and program news here.

Following ED Weinstock’s presentation we moved on to a presentation by Mario Merlino, Assistant Commissioner for NYY’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH). It’s official: funds for actual Bronx and Queens shelters are in the Mayor’s budget request for the new year, page 15 and 16, which is huge news.

1109-Civic-Buildings-5Mr. Merlino gave updates on all capital projects currently underway by the DOH, which owns all ACC facilities and oversees the ACC contract. Here’s the short version of those updates: the new Staten Island shelter, currently under construction, is expected to be completed in 2017. The new Manhattan adoption center to be built next to the existing shelter will have the design contact awarded in the fall of 2016 and construction is expected to begin in summer of 2018. Replacement of the Brooklyn shelter’s roof and HVAC system will complete a scope study in June 2016 with construction beginning in winter 2018. Finally, the new Bronx and Queens shelter facilities expect to have a scope study completed in Dec 2016 with site purchase done by Dec 2018, design approval in 2019, and construction beginning in 2020.

Each of these projects will be handled separately, any and all could (and probably will) run into delays. There are many layers of approval including city community boards (an opportunity for NIMBY objections) and the city council. This is a time for cautious optimism – but this is further than we’ve ever gotten before on the construction of new facilities.

Chairman Nolan, the board and the audience all expressed frustration at the pace of the city projects and asked for ways to accelerate them. There aren’t many. The city is well known for moving at a snail’s pace; the Second Avenue Subway was first proposed in 1920 and may be completed next year. Maybe. There are likely to be ample opportunities for public involvement in political lobbying. Stay tuned… but it’s an encouraging start.

One slight note of caution: Mr. Merlino did say that Mayor de Blasio was very committed to the new shelters, but declined to speculate what might happen under a different administration. This alone might be enough for me to hold my nose and vote de Blasio for re-election.

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 7.24.41 PMFinally, we had the public comment period. Although I try to make jokes about it, these periods of public Q&A frequently make it painfully embarrassing to be an advocate for animals in New York City. We had a few excellent points – a woman wanted to relate to the board her experience when her animal was killed by the shelter following complications from spay/neuter. A commenter made an excellent point about the legality of interstate transport, and further about the inability to reach anyone by phone. But we also had, as always, a parade of crazies. People without any discernable point. A man who delivered a petition to “become a No Kill shelter” who evidently had not been listening to the hour and a half of presentation on the progress in that direction. People who do not understand that ACC is not a police force. A commenter who stood only to accuse the board and all of the staff of being sociopaths, which caused a rare outburst of objection from an actual rescuer in the room. A person who would like NYC to follow Italy’s example, where hundreds of thousands of stray dogs and millions of cats roam the streets and the government funds privately operated camps for animals where some unscrupulous operators run cruel, crooked businesses that skimp on care and keep the money.

Eventually Chairman Nolan cut the comment period short, which was unfortunate and deprives the people of New York a chance to interact with the board of their shelters. But I attend a lot of public meetings and I’ve never one with a percentage of crazies that is routinely this high. It would be unfortunate to eliminate this period from the meeting – and indeed, without it there would probably be a lot of crazy erupting DURING the meeting – but we seem to need some further guidelines for commenters. No nazi comparisons. No murderers, no psychopaths, no making up your own statistics. Have an actual point. If I might make a suggestion, requiring each commenter to bring a written statement with sufficient copies for all board members and the written record of the meeting might at least weed out the worst of the worst.

So there are the high points, folks, the most significant developments from the highest functioning shelter New York City has ever had – and one that could really use our help. Is it perfect? No, and in some upcoming posts I’ll be talking some more about that. It’s still extremely difficult to volunteer, there is no public decision matrix for euthanasia, the medical care is underwhelming, and you can’t get anybody on the phone, to note a few of the most obvious issues. But it’s the best shelter system in NYC history, it’s the most rapidly improving shelter system in NYC history, and we’re gonna get to all of that. The time has come to continue to recognize the issues present, but also to ask: how can I help? It’s also time to show a little damn pride. I am tired of hearing hyperbole: a woman recently told me on Twitter that ACC was one of the “top 3” in the nation for killing animals, which is wildly, stupidly, ignorantly false. I’m tired of hearing “super high kill!!”, which hasn’t been true in many years. Those people should be corrected and informed of the progress made. I don’t know of anyone with an intake of 30,000 animals a year doing better. I hope they continue to do better still.

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NYCACC Board Meeting: Fri, Jan 22

Below is the official notice of the NYCACC board meeting. Click to enlarge.


As always, every interested New Yorker should make every effort to attend. You’ll find information there you won’t hear anywhere else, and it’s your only chance to ask questions of the board in person.

I’ll be doing a full wrap-up and update after the meeting, but a few tidbits and things to know…

– These meetings used to be quarterly. We haven’t had once since the summer and this one is billed as an annual meeting. There’s always been a wax and wane of openness for these meetings, looks like we’re waning. Bring your questions; you may not be able to ask again for quite a while.

– Expect the meeting to contain quite a fanfare about save numbers and an announcement that they are closing in on No Kill. By my calculations (which the NYT seems to confirm) I would expect ACC to announce cat save numbers for 2015 in the mid-80th percentile and dogs around the 90th percentile. While there are some caveats (and definitely things to work on), there is no question that NYC is on the upswing – and within the parameters of the reporting format they use (Asilomar), I don’t see a reason to doubt them. Should ACC cross the 90% save rate mark I believe they would be the largest shelter by intake in the US to do so.

– One of those caveats remains the transmission of in-shelter disease, a burden that is borne disproportionately by rescue groups that pull from ACC. When Medical Director Dr. Levin first joined ACC she gave a very impressive presentation at her initial board meeting with very informative statistics and plans to improve ACC processes. Since then we’ve heard very little from Dr. Levin and she seems to have been somewhat sidelined by ACC upper management. Will we hear more about the state of infectious disease at ACC and an update on efforts to prevent it?

– You should be following the NYCACC twitter account, which is doing something quietly revolutionary: each day, they are annoucing how many animals were pulled from the lists and who pulled them. This is HUGE for transparency and data tracking. Transparency like this is not easy and I applaud them for it.

– Yesterday’s New York Times article contained several bombshells, including that efforts to find new shelter sites in Queens and the Bronx (which currently have no full-servive shelters) are moving forward. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard before, so I’m interested in hearing more details. This is, I believe, the first time Executive Director Weinstock has commented publicly that more shelter space is needed and/or welcome, and I’ll take that as an encouraging sign. If the city is serious this time, we may see some money allotted for it in the Mayor’s proposed budget and that would certainly give him a win in the animal issues column – a win he he could really use with his signature animal welfare issue turning into quite a mess.

Overall it’s a much better time to be an animal in an NYC shelter than it was five years ago, and there are some very interesting possibilities ahead. I’ll do a full write-up after the meeting.

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Adopt a King in New York City!

Buckle in, this is kind of a long story. But King Arthur is worth it.

This past summer, Arthur was trapped in a feral colony at the request of a Large Non Profit here in NYC. He was very social, very sick, and diabetic. When he needed help, the Large Non Profit walked away and left us trappers holding the bag. We turned to the public to help treat him, and thanks to all of you who donated King Arthur got his medical treatment and treatment for a very scary hypoglycemic episode where he had multiple seizures.

At the time my vet cautioned me that the seizures had been very severe and that he could take months to recover. Hah! He was back to his old self 24 hours after discharge.

Over the next several months we got his diabetes well under control, and it’s now quite easy to manage. The seizures have been a slightly different story – once a cat begins to have seizures, it’s almost a sure thing that they will have more, and it took some months to find a balance of medication that worked for him.

I love the little bastard. He’s charming. He’s vocal. He’s hungry. He loves people and he loves to be held like a baby as he purrs away. He gets along well with cats and dogs and is easygoing and very confident. And I would love to keep him, but I can’t. He will always have the risk of the occasional seizure, which means that he has to be kept separate from my dogs any time I can’t be in the room with them. This means he has to spend an unacceptable amount of time cooped up in my bathroom. He doesn’t seem to mind, but I hate to do it to him – he simply deserves a better life than I can possibly provide for him.

I know he’s a hard sell – 6 years old, diabetic, and has seizures. But I also know that he is one heck of a cat and a total charmer, and I hope that there is someone out there who might be interested in giving him a home fit for a King with the care he deserves. He is so worth it. His ongoing care is easy and I can teach you how. He does require daily injections of insulin (which he does not mind getting), and a pill he eats in his food.

If you’d consider meeting the King, please drop me a line. He is here in New York City but I will drive any resonable distance for the right home. There is no deadline; I will not give up on him. He is with me for as long as he needs to be. But he deserves better. Could that be you?


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Saving Bronx Cats

IMG_1334I got a phone call in early October to help with a dying kitten in the Bronx. I ended up in a 2BR apartment with a couple who were clearly overwhelmed. They love cats, and they tried to do the right thing by taking in just three cats who needed homes, but they didn’t keep up on the spay and neuter. The original cats had litters, and those cats had litters, and before you know it they had 35 cats in their home and they’re overwhelmed. Minutes after I arrived the kitten I had originally come for passed. Not even 2 weeks old, he had an infected bite wound on his head that had abscessed, unnoticed. The back bedroom is for the kittens, but many die from lack of care. They have so many cats that they could not remember all of their names or tell me how many there were.

I’m a little overwhelmed myself. I’m in production for a new Broadway show and we’re in our 8am – 11pm days, 6 days a week. But I couldn’t not help them. They needed help badly; about 25% of the cats in their home were approaching sexual maturity and the house was about to have a huge population explosion.

IMG_1326I quickly arranged for a day of mass spay/neuter, with an ASPCA truck coming to their home and picking up as many of the cats as possible, returning with them the next day – and I got very lucky. When I called the ASPCA, they had a truck available a mere two days later. They are a fairly amazing resource in New York City for this kind of work. A friend of mine whom I partner with on many spay/neuter projects very generously made herself available to be at the apartment with the truck on short notice when I could not, and she added a few Bronx-trapped feral cats to the truck load.

IMG_1379A few days after the first big spay/neuter I stopped by the apartment with supplies. While this project is primarily about stopping the cycle of reproduction and ending the deaths in the house, it was also an opportunity to teach the residents to care for the remaining cats as well as possible – good quality care does not have to be expensive. I brought new, large litter pans to replace the tiny, overflowing ones, 160lbs of clumping litter with scoops that will last longer, smell better and be more sanitary than the non-clumping litter, and 50 lbs of dry food and 150 cans of wet food that are solid quality nutrition that is not outrageously expensive. I also reached out to rescues and rescuers known to me to take a few of the most vulnerable cats, and a huge thanks to Anjellicle Cat Rescue, Companion Animal Trust, and Little Wanderers for their help and assistance in getting them to safety and making them available for adoption.

There is a little clean up still to do: there are three cats that we could not get access to on the initial day and I’ll have to return for them as well as the moms who are now nursing and their kittens. I’ll be doing that over the next few weeks. Once my show opens, in early December, I will switch focus to adopting out as many cats as the owners will allow; they have already given up 7 and are expected to surrender more.

IMG_1333Thus far the bill has been $1357 for spay/neuter which also included rabies and FVRCP shots, FIV/FeLV testing, flea treatment, and round trip transport – not too bad. In addition, I have spent approximately $200 on supplies. This project had to move quickly, so I financed everything out of my pocket hoping that people might want to help me once I got a chance to write this all down! I estimate that the total cost of the project will be approximately $2000. In addition to spaying and neutering every single cat in the house that is of age, I would like to be able to provide funding for any group that steps up to help me to fund their expenses, especially if they take a young kitten. At this point I intend to stop asking for donations when and if I hit $2000 and holding off until I determine if more funds are necessary. Any excess funding will be given to the 501(c)3 groups that have helped me on this project; I do not intend to keep a dime. IMG_1445While the people who live in the apartment will be asked to contribute, they have modest means. I think this is worth doing, not just for them but for the animals who live there, for the animals who will now not be born (and perhaps die) there, and for the sake of public health before this home becomes a law enforcement situation. If you would like to help, I would be very grateful. If you’re looking for a good number, $55 provides one cat with all of the basic services. I have partnered for this fundraising with the Social Good Fund so that your donation is to a 501(c)3 and is fully tax deductible; we are one of their sponsored projects.

Thank you so much for your help.

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NYCACC Board Meeting – Jun 24, 10:30AM

There will be a meeting of the board of New York City Animal Care and Control on Wednesday, June 24 at 10:30AM. The official notice is reprinted below (click to enlarge). These meetings are always educational and time there is well spent. Mark your calendar!


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The Myth of the FBI and Animal Cruelty

US-FBI-ShadedSeal.svgYou see it regularly now on Facebook in cases of animal abuse – someone will mention the FBI and how all this will be improved when they get involved in animal cruelty as they’re scheduled to, or that abuse is now a federal crime, or isn’t the FBI supposed to be doing something about this?

No, no, and no. So let’s address that.

The FBI recently made a change to the way they collect and report data about crime in a database called the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, that collects and reports data on crime statistics from around the country. Previously, animal cruelty crimes were lumped into an “other” category. It represents a change in attitude for the FBI – they want better tracking of cruelty because they find it is an indicator of violent crime, so in their reporting they are presenting it as equally important to consider and track as many violent crimes.

This has been widely misunderstood, both by the press and the general public. It does not mean that animal cruelty is now a federal crime, it does not mean that people who abuse animals will be prosecuted differently or get stiffer sentences, it does not mean that the FBI intends to get involved or is involved in state or local cruelty cases. It is simply a change in the way they track crime data. And that’s important, and a step forward – it’s a signal that they agree it should be taken seriously. But that’s all it is.

Data collection will begin in 2016.

The waters have been somewhat further muddied, I think, by some activist groups with poor messaging.


This is simply not true. Trust me, cruelty is not always a felony – or don’t trust me, look at the thousands of news stories for misdemeanor animal cruelty. Here in New York State, you can still starve an animal to death and it’s a misdemeanor – there’s a link to the exact text of the current law, take a look. What is true is that all states now have provisions for treating some cruelty as a felony offense, which is a very different statement, and a step forward. But currently, in most states, most cruelty is treated as a misdemeanor – and the definition of “cruelty” can vary widely from state to state.

I think it is important to correct misinformation like this so that animal lovers and activists do not believe that we’ve crossed a goal line that we, in fact, have not. The way cruelty is treated in the United States is changing, and these represent small but very important changes, changes that are worth noting and celebrating but that are not revolutionary – and that tends to be the way things work. Attitudes and laws tend to evolve over time rather than radically changing overnight. But further change is needed, and there is still much to do.

Update 12/2/15: This is a recent and excellent mass media article on the subject.

Update 1/7/16: Here’s another great article in the Washington Post.

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