I attended the recent New York City Council Health Committee hearing on oversight of New York City Animal Care and Control. I’ll spare you the recap of the meeting because Shelter Reform Action Committee has done their usual excellent job of summarizing the proceedings and the entire thing is available to watch on streaming video.
I was struck, as I usually am, by how few people came to attend this meeting. Most of the faces were familiar; nearly half the chairs in the small room taken by people who represented established NYC animal interests. Very few of the public show up to these meetings as does a relatively small subset of groups who claim to be working and advocating for change.
That is something we are likely to need to change to get reform. Politicians know that it’s easy to get people to sign an on-line petition but harder to get them to a city council meeting and when the public consistently fails to show in large numbers for these meetings then the politicians who run them give them little attention. At this particular meeting most of the health committee didn’t bother to even show up – only the chair stayed for the entire meeting, with 6 other members dropping by, some for only a few minutes.
I know these meetings are scheduled at times inconvenient for working people. I know they are sometimes announced at the last minute (NYCACC’s board meetings are typically announced as late as they think they can possibly get away with). But the root of the problem with the New York City shelter system is a political problem, and it is ultimately one that will require a political solution. New York City has around 9 million residents. The largest Facebook group dedicated to saving NYCACC animals has more than 70,000 members. There are countless online groups that claim to be working towards NYCACC reform. But there were likely fewer than 20 members of the public at a key meeting on shelter oversight by the city council. When council members see those kind of numbers, they know that the issue is of so little actual importance to their efforts to get re-elected that nearly half of the committee members don’t bother to attend the meeting.
I’m not sure why this is. People may be cynical about politics, especially in New York City, but I assure you – come to one of these meetings and you will see flashes of hope. You will see what is possible. You will see the Health Committee Chair repeatedly label the relationship between the city’s Department of Health and their contractor, NYCACC, “weird” and unhealthy. You will see politicians like Scott Stringer and Linda Rosenthal present thoughtful statements that show their depth of understanding of the issues and their commitment to them even in the face of uneven public support – issues that they do not need to take on to get elected or re-elected. These are the people who can move this fight forward if we can show them that we care and we will back them – not just that we care enough to sign an online petition or make a Facebook comment but to come to these meetings and demand of our representatives that they work to change the system. Shelter Reform Action Committee typically publicizes every shelter related meeting in New York and you may join their low-volume mailing list on their home page.
This is an area where shelter activists would do well to take a lesson from the fight for a carriage horse ban, which is more organized, more political, and has has been far better and more consistent at putting bodies on the streets in protest and in politics.
The next opportunity is a wonderful one. There is an upcoming Mayoral Candidates’ Forum on Animal Protection Issues on Monday, May 6 at
5:30pm 4:30PM – the start time has changed. Admission is free, just RSVP at the link to get your name on the list at the door. The forum will be hosted by former candidate Tom Allon and all of the major declared candidates for the New York City mayoral race have been invited. This may be our only chance to have them at a Q&A forum specifically for animal issues – just to see which of the candidates feels that this is an event worth attending will be very telling.
The mayor of NYC holds all the cards at NYCACC. A mayor created the non-profit. The mayor decides who will hold the contract. The mayor appoints the board members. The mayor appoints the head of the DOH, which oversees the contract. The mayor – the next mayor – of New York City is the single most important person to the hope of NYCACC reform. The right person could single-handedly force the issue, the wrong person could let the status quo linger on for their entire term. Will you show them that this is an important issue to you?
See you there.