The New York Times, Sunday, January 8, 1995
Francis X. Clines
A Society Spurns Death for Animals
The kennel erupted with yapping pleas and wagging tails as Joanne Yohannan entered, newly freed of old obligations to see to humane euthanizing of the city's excess pets and newly focused on specializing in their adoption .
"This guy was just dumped on the B.Q.E.," she said of one feverishly friendly dog found on the dizzying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The animal, his eyes a glisten, licked her hand between the bars. He half whirled at the bit of attention, as if dancing because the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has quietly retreated to its roots and quit the animal-killing business.
With the new year, the A.S.P.C.A. ended 100 years of service as the city's animal control agency, collecting and euthanizing up to 40,000 abandoned and derelict cats, dogs and exotic pets each year. That task has shifted to a new agency, the Center for Animal Care and Control, a nonprofit organization working under contract with the city.
Some of the A.S.P.C.A.'s main collection shelters and staff have been ceded to the new agency, which is vowing it's own heightened efforts at adoption. The shift in euthanizing responsibility may be of small comfort to the city's animal rights protesters. But it is of utmost importance to Ms. Yohannan, a society worker and pet lover (two cats, Muffin and Tuffin, plus assorted foster guests bootlegged home from the office from time to time).
She no longer runs the Brooklyn shelter that takes in 25,000 animals year, most scheduled for euthanizing after failed adoption efforts. Instead, she is the new director of animal placement for the reformed A.S.P.C.A. at itsManhattan headquarters on East 92nd Street.
"Actually, this is a dream," said Ms. Yohannan of her new role of enlarging adoption services after 15 years in a field that interested her from childhood. "The fact is that the euthanizing seriously undermined the good work we do," she said, getting to the heart of a century-old problem for the society.
Henry Bergh, a determined humanist , playwright and diplomat for the Lincoln Administration, started the A.S.P.C.A. in 1866 as part of a wave of social reform in which he helped to found the children's protective movement as well. Bergh was a passionate insurgent celebrated for using his walking stick to upbraid peddlers who beat their dray horses on city streets.
"Bergh was a real New York toff," Roger A. Caras, the current society president, said. "His biography is titled, 'Angel in a Top Hat.' "Mr. Caras steered the New York chapter away from euthanizing as a part of a trend in various cities now that the society has pioneered the mandating of humane euthanizing in modern law. Lethal injection is the required method in New York, a century after dog catchers used drowning cages, clubs and guns to kill derelict animals.
"We were the first in and just about the last out," Mr. Caras said of the New York society's joining the retreat by A.S.P.C.A. chapters from the labors of euthanizing. "It was a mistake 100 years ago and it was a mistake last year."
Far more than seeing to the technology of death, he said, "we should be attacking the real problem: irresponsible pet ownership and animals not being spayed and neutered."
Accordingly, the city society plans to open a new shelter as a model for the nation, one with room for 500 animals to be up for adoption after spaying and neutering. Plans include a large room for postoperative isolation need by the animal to avoid infection and to expand the society's privately financed adoption program.
"We're getting back to what we're supposed to be doing,": Mr. Caras said happily. " A hundred years ago. we took a wrong turn, and no one had the wits to say: 'Wait a minute. What are we doing? We're a humane society and we're killing.'"
Ms. Yohannan. who has cradled too many animals as they received terminal injections, is grateful for the turning. "Just to be able to concentrate more on education and adoption," she said. "You deal with a lot of emotions, of people and of animals," she recalled of her final hour at the Brooklyn shelter, when she helped a weeping man have his infirm dog put down.