The New York Post, Sunday, August 31, 1997
Photo caption: "Pet-ition: Julie Van Ness, Gary Kaskel and Marie Mar (l-r) with signatures they've collected on behalf of four-legged friends like Molly."
Pet peeve stirs bid to put animal agency to sleep
by Susan Edelman
The city's embattled animal-control agency-already so overwhelmed with homeless pets that it kills 125 a day-now is facing a challenge to its very existence.
A grass-roots animal-actvist group has collected enough signatures to force a referendum on creating a city Department of Animal Affairs to replace the Center for Animal Care and Control.
The Shelter Reform Action Committee, a coalition of animal-rights activists, says it has collected more than 60,000 signatures. If they're all valid, that's more than enough to put the question to voters on the November ballot.
"There's never been an animal-welfare referendum like this," said committee organizer Gary Kaskel. "This is going to be groundbreaking legislation if people vote for it."
The referendum asks whether the city should form the new department to take over the animal-control and shelter system-and appoint an "animal czar" to champion the welfare of pets and other creatures.
The department would replace the Center for Animal Care and Control, a nonprofit agency operating under a city contract worth about $4.5 million.
The city formed the CACC three years ago, when the ASPCA bowed out of the animal-control business after 100 years. But controversy has dogged the CACC since its infancy.
Critics say the underfunded agency is a "death camp" for lost, stray and abandoned animals. Of some 63,000 animals taken in annually, 45,000 are euthanized and carted away for cremation.
"This place is called the Center for Animal Care and Control. There is no care going on. This has become just a killing machine for the city," said Rosemary Joyce, a former CACC board member.
She and veterinarian Louise Murray were fired by Mayor Giuliani in June after they complained that City Hall had blocked efforts to hire a qualified executive director.
CACC officials say they are struggling to deal with a huge animal overpopulation problem caused by people who abandon their pets on the streets or dump them at the agency's doors.
Many of the dogs and cats put to death are healthy, sociable animals that would make loving pets. But officials say there isn't enough money or space to house them for long. Up to 200 animals arrive daily.
"Do too many of them have to be put to sleep? Absolutely," said Marilyn Haggerty-Blohm, a 14-year city bureaucrat whom Giuliani named CACC interim director. But a new city department isn't the answer, she said.
"The answer is getting the CACC perceived out there as a positive organization and working with these groups to attack the root causes of the things they want to correct, such as irresponsible pet ownership," she said.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, chairman of the CACC board, also called the proposed department unnecessary. He said the CACC is boosting adoption and spay-and-neuter programs in an effort to lower the euthanasia rate.
But activists insist the system needs an overhaul.
The referendum calls on the mayor to appoint a devoted animal-affairs commissioner-not just a political crony, Kaskel said. It requires the top dog to have at least five years of experience running a municipal shelter system or humane organization.
It also calls for an 11-member oversight commission, with members appointed by the borough presidents, the city council, and the commissioners of parks, police and health-not sanitation.
[Sidebar to above story]
San Fran shelter is the cat's meow
by Susan Edelman
Homeless cats and dogs stand a helluva better chance of survival in San Francisco than in New York, but even in that city, they're not safe from execution.
Perhaps the most admired municipal animal shelter in the country still destroys cats and dogs that might be adoptable.
"The bottom line is, we do kill animals here," said Carl Friedman, executive director of San Francisco's Department of Animal Care and Control.
The California city -- which takes in about 15,000 homeless animals a year -- kills 39 percent, including hamsters, parakeets, guinea pigs and bunnies. It destroys 26 percent of dogs and cats.
But, as spokeswoman Melissa Flower told The Post, "We're really a small town, comparied to you guys."
Nevertheless, New York animal activists hold up the West Coast city as the ideal.
"San Francisco isn't perfect yet, but it's a lot farther along than we are," said Julie Van Ness, president of United Action for Animals. "They have a goal. They have a vision. We don't."
New York's Center for Animal Care and Control takes in more than 63,000 animals a year, and kills more than 70 percent.
A few years ago, San Francisco cut its kill rate from nearly 50 percent by signing an unusual pack with the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The well-heeled private group-which is building a $15 million animal shelter with skylights and cat condos-agreed to find homes for any healthy, companionable cat or dog that the municipal agency would have to euthanize for lack of space.