New York Newsday, September 3, 1997
Push for Animal Affairs
by Robert Polner
Likening the city's treatment of stray dogs and cats to its handling of household trash, a coalition of several humane groups yesterday proposed a Nov. 4 ballot referendum on creating a city Department of Animal Affairs.
The advocates filed records at the City Clerk's office in lower Manhattan, claiming 75,000 signatures supporting a petition to put the initiative on the ballot on Election Day.
At present, animal control is handled by the City Health Department at an annual cost of about $4.5 million, mainly in contract services. Animal advocates have attacked the effort in recent years as inhumane and ineffective, saying too many animals are put to death. The total last year alone exceeded 40,000, they said.
"The emphasis now is collect-and-kill-as if it were a carting operation-- but that's no way to deal with the problem of pet overpopulation," said Gary Kaskel, a computer consultant who is co-chairman of the coalition, which held a news conference on the ballot initiative outside City Hall. He said public education, additional shelters and programs to encourage animal spaying are urgently needed, but that city offficials have shown little or no interest in taking such preventive steps.
The proposed referendum must pass muster with the city clerk. For now, the validity of the signatures is open to challenge, possibly even by the city, said an attorney for the humane groups, Robert Milne. He said the City Charter allows citizens to put questions on the ballot, backed by at least 50,000 valid signatures.