Most people are familiar with the New York City Animal Care & Control (NYCACC) kill list released each evening, but there are other pleas sent out by email throughout the day to New Hope rescues: special cases, injuries in need of immediate treatment (most of which NYCACC will not treat, instead depending on the rescues of NYC to provide emergency medical treatment), and very young animals. A bottle baby (motherless) kitten that comes in to certain NYCACC branches can be in big trouble; during kitten season the need is constant and they have had a very hard time recruiting foster parents (Indeed, their process for becoming a foster parent is reported to be so inconvenient and convoluted it is no wonder they haven’t found more – or perhaps it’s that foster parents may have slight objections to their charges being kill listed should they get sick after being returned to the shelter). At the most recent board meeting, Executive Director Risa Weinstock disclosed that there were only 55 cat foster parents in all of New York City. In a city of 8.5 million people, I can only call that pathetic.
A few weeks ago a “First Alert” email went out from NYCACC’s Manhattan location at approximately 4pm for three bottle baby kittens. Given that NYCACC can’t seem to figure out how to attract or retain foster parents and even with their increased funding they are incapable of caring for bottle babies overnight, they gave NYC rescues 2 hours of notice to rescue these cats: spoken for by 6pm or they die.
Pets Alive Westchester got the email and decided to step up for these cats. Sounds good, right? Ahhh, but with NYCACC nothing is ever easy…
My primary email address has been blocked by NYCACC for quite some time. I can’t say I was too surprised when it happened, obviously, I’m a huge pain in the ass – and it hasn’t slowed me down all that much as I’m a bit of a geek with many, many outgoing emails to choose from. But here’s what happens these days when the Executive Director of Pets Alive Westchester, a NYCACC-approved New Hope rescue, sends an email to someone at NYCACC.
For the non-geeks among you, I’ll translate: NYCACC runs an email filter program that incorrectly labels all incoming emails from Pets Alive Westchester as spam and rejects them. This is a slight problem as email is the primary way in which they communicate with rescues.
Still, there was another way – there are backup phone lines and rescue-only phone numbers. The only problem with that is that no one could be bothered to answer the phone that day, and the voicemails were full. NYCACC had set a death deadline of 2 hours from their initial email but there was no way to respond, no way to let them know that those lives could be saved.
With no way to communicate staff piled into the van and set out to make the drive to the Manhattan location. That drive would normally take about 40 minutes, but driving into Manhattan at rush hour is no picnic. Fortunately, they made it in time.
Once there they quickly claimed the three they had come for, but there was space for more: they could take up to ten cats that day. They’d had a tip about a cat whose rescue hold had fallen through and would end up on the kill list that evening, so they claimed him… once they found him. No one could locate young kitten Nicholas but he was eventually found in his litter of 6, the only one to be marked for death due to being underweight despite being the same approximate size as the rest of his litter. Other cats they wanted to take were denied for “adoption interest“, as ACC continues to hold back animals they think they can actually adopt from rescue. Until, of course, they get sick as they all will eventually. Then they’ll be kill listed. At a time when kill lists are running 40-60 animals per night, this makes no sense at all.
They moved on to four kittens who were not yet altered, and that pull was denied as well. I do realize that NYCACC has an obligation to make sure that their animals are altered – but I also realize that they are extremely short on veterinarians and even shorter on competent veterinarians. Even with their increased funding they still send animals out to the ASPCA for altering because they cannot handle one of their most basic duties, nor can they seem to hire or retain veterinarians – they haven’t had a medical director in years now. As a brick and mortar facility with a vet on staff who does spay and neuter routinely, Pets Alive has for years been approved to pull unaltered animals and do it themselves. This works out for everyone: the animal gets out of a disease-ridden environment faster, generally gets a better quality of care, and NYCACC does not need to have the expense of altering that animal. This used to work pretty well, but lately that blanket rule has changed to an exception on a case-by-case basis, with all cases needing the approval of a single individual – an individual, I might add, who does not work in shelter facilities but in NYCACC’s executive offices downtown, far from the actual shelter(s). That individual was not answering their phone that day, so those kittens could also not leave the shelter. Denied. Oddly, the three bottle babies that had originally spurred the trip were obviously unaltered. That doesn’t seem to be a problem.
They left the shelter that day with only 4 kittens, wanting to take many more. As they rode back home they read the nightly kill list on their cell phone. Oddly, but predictably, there were Manhattan kittens on it, kittens meeting their pull criteria, kittens they had not been shown.
I’m always surprised when people think that NYCACC welcomes rescues with open arms. They don’t. They’re difficult to contact, impossible to deal with, and their “rules” for pulling are unannounced, unwritten, and constantly shifting. I’m seeing signs of strain in the New Hope department (the department that deals with rescue pulls) and I feel bad for them – they’ve recently been saddled with an entire layer of additional rules that increases their workload and makes their jobs more difficult. Where they used to fairly strictly focus on getting animals out of the shelter, lately the conditions have shifted. The recent priority is to steer the animals that require resources, be they time or money, to private rescues while the shelter keeps animals in-house that they feel are quickly “adoptable” in order to make the numbers look better for their new adoption initiative. Of course animals that they have judged to be more desirable will be kill listed in a heartbeat if injury or illness is discovered in that animal. Although NYCACC has millions in new-found funding the idea of using it to care for animals does not seem to be taking hold. I can’t imagine how frustrating that is for experienced New Hope staff, watching management create a culture of confusion that only serves to drive rescues away and killing up.
NYCACC currently has over 230 “New Hope Partners”, rescues that are approved to pull animals – but very, very few of those rescues pull animals on any kind of regular basis. While it is true that some are small and some are breed specific there are a good many who likely could and would easily pull more if the shelter would allow them to and perhaps showed them a little consideration. NYCACC is not the only place with animals in danger; it’s much easier for a rescue with limited resources and a mission to save as many lives as possible to simply save them from elsewhere, somewhere that is grateful for their help, somewhere that doesn’t make it a constant process of frustration and expense to save animals made sick by the very shelter they’ve been pulled from.
The shelter is requiring Pets Alive Westchester to re-submit an application to be approved to pull unaltered animals and do the alter themselves. That application is supposed to be submitted by email. As of the date of this writing, three weeks after having been informed, again, that email from New Hope partners is being rejected by their spam filter, the filter remains in place. Some days you can reach the shelter by phone. Some days you can’t.
Is this what we’re getting for the additional millions recently poured by the city into a failed system?