Stringer Cites Organizational Missteps
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released “Led Astray: Reforming New York City’s Animal Care & Control,” a report that documents failures in the performance of Animal Care & Control (AC&C) and calls for wholesale financial and managerial reforms of the not-for-profit organization, which manages the largest animal shelter system in the northeastern U.S.
Stringer’s report catalogues what he claims is chronic dysfunction in the New York City shelter system: Adoptions, for example, are down 37 percent over six years. During the same period, the agency ramped up by 70 percent its reliance on so-called “placements,” a process where AC&C shifts its responsibility for animals to outside rescuers, who must then shoulder the burden of finding safe, loving homes for the animals.
The agency has also failed to take advantage of vital sources of revenue, according to the report, including dog licensing, which has declined for the third straight fiscal year. A high rate of infection exposes thousands of animals to life-threatening conditions, pegged at nearly 100 percent of animals leaving AC&C shelters by an ASPCA Medical Director.
Currently without an executive director, AC&C has been plagued by organizational dysfunction for decades, with eight different directors in the past 10 years.
“New York City’s Animal Care and Control is a managerial and fiscal mess. New Yorkers cannot continue to throw precious tax dollars at a system that has proven it simply doesn’t work,” said the Borough President, speaking at a Sunday, Jan. 6 press conference where he was joined by animal care experts and rescuers. “AC&C is failing to provide humane conditions for the animals in its care. It is increasingly failing in its fundamental responsibility to place animals in loving homes. And it is failing to generate additional revenues and raise sufficient outside funds that would put the agency on stronger financial ground. We need fundamental reform and the time to start is now.”
In the report, rescuers share firsthand testimonials about the substandard conditions of shelters and fatal errors made within the shelter system:
– As hundreds of cats and dogs were displaced by Hurricane Sandy, AC&C all but abandoned their operational responsibilities. They conducted virtually no field operations to locate stray animals, and closed their doors to the public and provided little guidance to rescuers, according to AC&C volunteers and rescue professionals.
– In June, Cocoa, a healthy female dog, died on the operating table at an AC&C shelter when the surgical team failed to give her oxygen during a routine operation, according to AC&C documents and an independent necropsy.
– In August, rescue group Stray from the Heart pulled a pit bull named Lacey from an AC&C shelter. It first appeared that Lacey had kennel cough, but her condition turned out to be pneumonia and required $5,000 worth of veterinary care.
The report noted that the City’s Animal Control & Care board- which is administered by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)-has been plagued with managerial dysfunction. Nothing reflects this better than the fact that, AC&C has had eight different Executive Directors in the last 10 years. On Oct. 19, AC&C’s most recent executive director, Julie Banks, stepped down, and the position is currently unfilled.
The non-profit has been without a full-time medical director since 2010.
In 2011, the City Council passed Local Law 59, a bill that allocated an additional $10 million over three years to AC&C while absolving the city of the responsibility to operate shelters in all five boroughs.
The report concludes that in a year since the law’s passage, the performance of the city’s shelter system has continued to decline: According to the most recent Mayor’s Managerial report, the number of new dog licenses- a key strategy for raising revenue in many municipalities-declined by an additional five percent in the last fiscal year.
Overall, dog licensing lingers at 10 percent-well below the 90 percent compliance achieved by model city Calgary, Alberta, which uses these revenues to fund animal operations at no cost to taxpayers.
Beyond these systemic failures, the report says that AC&C’s inability to raisesizable revenue from private sources has made the non-profit overly dependent on city funding, which has historically been inconsistent and inadequate. Much of this is attributable to the fact that AC&C’s board does not include members who have sufficient expertise in animal care or private fundraising.
According to AC&C’s most recent reporting, it raised $56,276 from outside donors in Fiscal Year 2010. Stray From the Heart, a group run by parttime volunteers, raised $156,780 in 2010 from private funds, nearly three times as much as AC&C in the same period.
The report includes the following recommendations:
1. Save tax dollars and generate new revenues by restructuring AC&C into an independent not-for-profit modeled after the Central Park Conservancy.
AC&C must have a strong executive sirector with complete authority over shelter operations, as well as an independent board whose members have expertise in animal care and fundraising.
The Central Park Conservancy offers a model that AC&C should adopt: Although the Parks Department retains policy control over the park, 85 percent of Central Park’s annual budget is raised independently by the Conservancy and its dedicated board. Last year, the Conservancy raised $38 million in private funding.
2. Substantially increase revenue by aggressively promoting dog licensing compliance.
The city should work with State Legislators to transfer licensing enforcement from the DOHMH to AC&C, so that the any revenue raised can go directly to funding shelter operations. Moreover, the new executive director and board should develop a multi-faceted approach to increase revenue from pet licensing. AC&C should work with state legislators to raise licensing fees. Increasing licensing compliance to 30 percent and raising fees to $20/$50 for altered/unaltered animals-on a par with Los Angeles and San Francisco- could generate close to $20 million annually in revenue.
3. Commit to Building Full Service Shelters in the Bronx and Queens
The reconstituted AC&C should commit to building full service shelters in the Bronx and Queens. Despite legislative changes that have relieved the city of any legal obligation to build shelters in each borough, the need for them remains acute.
“With yet another vacancy to fill in the Executive Director’s position, New York City has a unique opportunity to step back and implement longoverdue reforms for AC&C, and I urge the city to seize the moment,” Stringer concluded. “The animals that depend on us for care and survival- and their owners-deserve nothing less.”