The New York Times, Sunday, February 26, 1995
Even at New Pound, City Kills Strays With Abandon
Creature discomforts at Center for Animal Care and Control
by Douglas Martin
Animal lovers heaved a sign of relief when the city's dogcatcher resigned after 100 years of service, hoping a new agency would bring a more meticulous and caring approach to the job.
But the Center for Animal Care and Control, which took over dealing with stray dogs and cats on New Year's Day, is already drawing criticism for inadequate care, bad record-keeping and assembly-line euthanasia.
"There's no professionalism at all," said Councilwoman Kathryn E. Freed. "We're still in the Dark Ages when it comes to animal care."
Indeed, in many ways it is difficult to tell the new agency from the old one, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which animal activists had long criticized. The center occupies the same buildings, has the same level of municipal funding, has hired 100 of its 137 employees from the A.S.P.C.A. and has as its executive director the same man who oversaw the society's operation as a city Health Department official.
It's really more of the same, and it's a terrible system," said Elinor Molbegott, former general counsel for the A.S.P.C.A.
Though it began its task less than two months ago, already the new center, established as a nonprofit but city-funded organization, has drawn intense negative publicity for mistakenly killing a chow chow puppy, Ruffy, whose owner had notified shelter officials he was coming to pick up his lost pet.
"To kill a purebred dog that was that friendly just doesn't make sense," said the dog's owner, John Gracchi of Maspeth, Queens.
Moreover, animal activists who have visited the center's facilities say they contain the same flaws noted by consultants during the final months of the society's control.
Marcia Lee Kannry, a leader of the Coalition for New York City Animals, made up of 100 organizations, visited the Brooklyn shelter three weeks ago and found inadequate heat, dogs and cats improperly housed in the same room, pools of standing water, a cat with a collar twisted about her head, and a terrier huddled in the back of his cage whimpering and apparently injured.
"The Center for Animal Care and Control is in violation of the most basic human health standards now accepted in municipal shelter systems," Ms. Kannry said.
Martin B. Kurtz, the new agency's executive director, disputed some of the observations and said other problems had been corrected. He pointed out that he fired the director of the Brooklyn shelter who allowed Ruffy to be killed.
He also says he is making changes. He plans to install a computer system to track all animals in the city's care, and he has ordered nine new air-conditioned rescue trucks. He is establishing a pilot program on Staten Islandto spay or neuter dogs and cats before they are adopted, a step he and others see as critical to overall population control.
"We're going to prove we're doing much more than killing animals," he said.
But killing animals remains a necessity, experts say. Roger Caras, president of the A.S.P.C.A., explained that the vast majority must be killed because they are old, dangerous or just unadoptable. Others must be killed to make way for the endless stream of new animals in the limited space. "There is nothing else you can do," he said.
Because of tight space and bigger numbers, New York City law allows the euthanizing of animals within 48 hours, compared with five days in most other New York cities. Accordingly, most strays are killed at the end of two days.
Money is a factor. The A.S.P.C.A. had to supplement what it got from the city, about $4.7 million, with $1.5 million in private contributions to do a job Mr. Caras concedes was inadequate. This funding level is markedly less than elsewhere. A survey by Animal People magazine showed that in the nation's 50 largest cities, spending for animal control averages $1.18 per human resident, compared with 70 cents in New York.
By its final years in the animal control business, the A.S.P.C.A. had become mired in problems ranging from theft by employees to excessive overtime, Mr. Caras said.
Anne Earle, former director of animal placement at the A.S.P.C.A., testified about what happened to animals in the last years of the society's control at a City Council hearing earlier this month.
"Problems included but were not limited to substance abuse, rough handling of animals, stealing of animals, blatant acts of cruelty including setting fire to a living kitten and bestiality," she said.
The bottom line was clear. "So much of our time was spent killing animals all day long," Mr. Caras said. "Being an abattoir is not our mission."
This dark picture was underlined by an assessment by two animal experts hired by the city to review its shelters a year ago. In a report to the Health Department, Carl Friedman, director of the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control, and Kenneth White, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, found many faults in the Manhattan and Brooklyn shelters, both of which are being used by the new agency. They cited inadequate drainage, crowding, flies and "overall decay." Noting that their visit was brief, they wrote, "It would be surprising if other major problems were not discovered in a more in-depth examination."
Mr. Caras said the A.S.P.C.A. will now be able to focus on increasing its capacity to sterilize animals, partly by building a large new veterinary hospital. He noted that New York was the last such society in the nation to abandon its catch and-kill mission and turn to aggressive spay-and-neuter programs.
Research by local animal activists shows the opening of a low-cost neutering clinic in San Francisco resulted in a drop in euthanasia from 10,000 animals in 1982 to 6,000 in 1993.
The New York City Council is considering a bill to require sterilization of animals older than 6 months. The Legislature is looking at requiring higher license fees for unsterilized dogs, with the proceeds to go into a low-cost neutering program.
[An accompanying bar chart entitled "Keeping Track: Animal Control in New York City" reads: "On Jan. 1, 1995, the American Society for [the] Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was removed as the city's animal control service after being criticized for mismanagement and animal abuse. Here are the figures for all animals received by the shelter and the results"; it shows the comparative numbers of animals euthanized versus adopted for the years 1990, '91, '92, '93 and '94.]