The New York Post, June 15, 1997
City Overwhelmed By Strays of ExecutionBy Susan Edelman
Homeless dogs and cats are destroyed at the chilling rate of 125 a day on a grim assembly line of death run by the city's Center for Animal Care and Control. Many young, healthy, adoptable pets are "put down," officials admit, to make room for the daily influx of up to 200 stray, confiscated or owner-rejected animals.
CACC officials say theirs is an almost impossible situation, created by people who care too little for animals.
"Society is dumping animals at an alarming rate, and we have to deal with it 24 hours a day," said CACCspokeswoman Faith Elliott. "The problem is out there, and everything comes to a head in here. It's a very difficult, stressful, thankless job."
The numbers involved are staggering: The CACC took in 63,449 animals last year -- 12 percent more than the previous year. Most -- 56,392 -- were dogs and cats. Three-fourths of the dogs and cats -- 42,924 -- were destroyed. The CACC spends $158,000 a year to cart away and cremate animal carcasses but just $14,000 a year on "public education" -- which includes promoting adoption and spay-neuter programs that could help curb animal overpopulation and cut the death toll. Only a fraction of the stray and abandoned dogs and cats are adopted. Last year, the CACC found new homes for 10 percent of its charges. Another 10 percent were placed through the ASPCA, the North Shore Animal League and other shelters and rescuers. Adoptions totaled 11,147.
Animal advocates call the CACC's main shelters in Brooklyn and Manhattan "death camps" where animals often sit in cramped cages for days or weeks without fresh air or exercise. At the East 110th Street shelter inManhattan, which houses more than 600 animals, the barking in packed dog wards is so deafening that workers must wear hearing protection.
"Homeless pets aren't garbage," activists chanted at a recent City Hall rally calling for creation of a city Department of Animal Affairs mandated to eventually stop the killing. They hope to collect 50,000 signatures by Aug. 15 to get the issue on the November ballot.
CACC workers say it's no picnic killing pets, and they insist they're doing the best they can to manage a crisis. Last year, nearly 20,000 pets were dropped off by owners, despite warnings they might be destroyed.
"They call us "killing bastards,' but who killed the cat -- the shelter, or the person who dumped it without even making a phone call to find someone else to take it?" Elliott asked. "A person just breaks his bond with his animal and walks out the door, and after a week or so the shelter is overcrowded and the animal is put down."
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, chairman of the CACC board, called euthanasia of excess pets a necessary evil. "You just don't have enough cages, enough space, enough money to house them forever," he said.
But the steady extermination takes a toll on CACC volunteers -- animal lovers who come to walk or groom the castoffs. "I feel like I'm walking graveyard dogs," one disheartened volunteer said.
Besides deserted pets and strays -- which must be kept alive only 48 hours to give owners a chance to claim them -- the center holds animals seized from people arrested for animal cruelty and other crimes, and also must house fighting pit bulls and dogs that have bitten people.
These "holding" animals take up space that might otherwise allow sociable pets a reprieve from the "euthanasia room," Elliott said. "If you run out of space in the ward where the vicious dogs are kept, you might have to pick and choose a few adoptable animals to be put to sleep," she noted.
A typical victim of the space crunch was Max, a Golden retriever/German shepherd mix who rested silently and peered at visitors while his neighbors panted and barked crazily. Someone had scribbled on the intake card on Max's cage: "great dog, friendly and sociable." The notation kept Max alive for more than a week, but it wasn't enough to spare him from the euthanasia needle.
The nonprofit CACC was formed 2 1/2 years ago to take over from the ASPCA, which bowed out of the animal-control business after 100 years. ASPCA President Roger Caras sympathizes with the CACC's plight. He says the ASPCA did an "embarrassingly bad" job but blames the city: "At the very least, to do a rotten job, it took us $6 million a year. The most we could get from the city was $4.5 million."
The CACC inherited the ASPCA's tight budget and aging buildings, although the city is spending $2.8 million to renovate the decrepit Brooklyn shelter. The agency's first executive director, Martin Kurtz, resigned in January amid complaints of callousness and incompetence. He has not been replaced, and an effort to woo a highly qualified candidate failed. Giuliani's office wants to "loan" a city manager to run the shelters while the CACCconducts a "nationwide search," Doherty said.
Meanwhile, the CACC and its practices have come under investigation by the City Council Contracts Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Kathryn Freed (D-Manhattan). A public hearing is set for tomorrow at 11 a.m.
Elliott called adoptions "the No. 1 priority of the CACC." But none of the $4.8 million the city pays the CACCto operate is allocated for advertising. This year, Elliott said, the CACC scraped together $30,000 from donations and shelter fees to place ads in subways and posters on garbage trucks promoting adoptions fromCACC shelters.
The CACC also spent about $8,000 to produce 18 half-hour videos, called "For Pet's Sake," featuring adoptable shelter animals. The videos, the brainchild of a shelter volunteer, ran on two cable networks, Manhattan Neighborhood Network and QPTV in Queens. Elliott agrees the CACC could do much more to boost adoptions, like place dogs and cats in pet-supply stores, where they will be visible. She has proposed such a program but hasn't gotten a go-ahead.