The New York Sun, Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Animal Rights Groups Assail City Shelters
Citing Abuse Audit, 'Golden Girl' Joins Critics
By JULIA LEVY
Special to the Sun
Animal rights activists pressed Mayor Bloomberg yesterday to change the practices and leadership of the Center for Animal Care and Control.
"What they need is a new program, a workable program," Rue McClanahan, the actress who played Blanche Devereaux on "The Golden Girls," told a news conference.
Calling the city's treatment of animals "barbaric" and "negligent," she said the problem is not an issue of too little funding, but one of ineffective management.
"If there's plenty of money to do it the wrong way, there's plenty of money to do it the right way," Ms. McClanahan said. "We cannot afford to keep paying people who are not doing their job, and that is what's going on."
Kathryn Freed, who was the self defined "animal person" during her time on the City Council, agreed that poor management was keeping the center from following its mandates of fundraising, recruiting volunteers, spaying and neutering pets, and promoting public education programs.
"If it were being run correctly and if it were being run by people who cared about animals, it wouldn't be a money question," Ms. Freed said. She noted that it costs more money to put animals to sleep than it would cost to neuter and spay newborn dogs and cats.
The news conference followed the June 6 release of an audit of the city's animal shelter system by city comptroller. The audit, which was conducted between January 1,1999, and June 30, 2001, found that the current system allows dogs and cats to be "accidentally and needlessly euthanized."
It also found that the center routinely failed to give the animals water and housed them in soiled cages.
The investigation not only uncovered evidence of animal mistreatment, but also encountered resistance as it inspected the center's practices.
"We were unable to interview employees, such as kennel attendants, veterinarians, adoption counselors, who could have given us first-person observations," Comptroller William Thompson Jr. said earlier this month.
The mayor's office has begun the process of appointing new members to the board of the city's animal shelter center system, according to a mayoral spokesman, Jordan Barowitz. He said he could not predict when the new members would be selected.
In a statement released last week, the Department of Health, which has jurisdiction over the center, said it did not find "any evidence of the serious deficiencies -- inhumane conditions or poor veterinary care -- cited in the Comptroller's report" in more than 1,200 inspections of the center's facilities between 1995, when the semi-privatized center started, and the present.
Ms. Freed said yesterday that she read the center's evasiveness as proof of its guilt: "If you don't have things to hide, you don't hide them."
Michael Egebert, assistant press secretary for the comptroller, said he was unsure whether there would be a follow-up study.
Ms. Freed, who said City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has agreed to sit down with her to discuss her concerns about the center, charged that the center has deteriorated since her time in city government.
"It's just a hellish situation, and we, the taxpayers, are paying for it to continue," she said after the news conference. "They haven't made improvements and they have even more of a siege mentality than before."
The executive director of Caring Corps, Inc., a New York based animal rights organization, Livi French, alleged that problems in the city's treatment of animals run deeper than the center's management. She said the Health Department is "in the business of protecting people from animals," instead of looking out for the welfare of the city's dogs and cats.
"They don't seem to distinguish between pests and pets," she said. "Animals are treated like a commodity, like a non-sentient commodity."
The comptroller's audit found that in the first six months of 2001, only 22.9% of animals taken in by the center were adopted while 67.3% of them were put to death.