Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism

A Peek Inside The NYC Shelter


The below e-mail is written by Patty Adjamine, Director of New Yorkers for Companion Animals, a rescue and adoption group. She often takes animals from NYC animal care and control to adopt them out. She lives in NYC and has been closely involved with this issue since the 1980s.

I would like to add a comment about the "sick" animals coming from the AC&C and the charges that this is recent and the fault of present management THIS IS A LIE! I have been closely involved with this issue since the ASPCA put up the present shelter on E. 110th St - completed in the early 1990s. This shelter was a white elephant from the beginning and built on the cheap. The plumbing and HVAC system were faulty from beginning. There is documentation to prove this - newspaper articles, reports to the DoH from that time; one of the more in depth articles was in 1996 by Eliz. Hess in the Village Voice. Some of these may be found on . The inadequate air exchange exacerbated illnesses often causing them to spread. Bandaid solutions to the building were inadequate. The best thing that could have been done for that building was to demolish it and start from the beginning - but the funding was not available.

The fact that NYC will no longer have Ed Boks as executive director of the AC&C is a huge, huge loss. Two years was not long enough to really make a difference - although we were certainly on the right track. What next - another city bureaucrat ... didn't we just spend years trying to get rid of the last two?! Elizabeth Forel/The Coalition for NYC Animals, Inc.

I would like to take opportunity to address some of the unfair and inaccurate charges that have been leveled against AC&C and specifically, Ed Boks by some in the movement who seem unable to recognize a good thing when we have it.

I too, in the past have been critical of the "no kill" mantra that has been voiced by Boks and Jane Hoffman of the "Mayors Alliance." While it is important to have vision and goals, it is also vital to be connected to the harsh and unique realities that surround running an animal care and control shelter in New York City.

The AC&C is an "all admittance" shelter. That means it can not turn any animal away. It means it takes in all kinds of animals: young animals, old ones, healthy animals, sick ones, friendly animals and terrified, skittish, feral or in some cases, aggressive animals.

While most of the animals the AC&C takes in are dogs and cats, it also takes in rabbits, birds, farm animals and exotics.

The AC&C receives about 125 animals every DAY. While the cats vary tremendously in age, type, breed, age and temperament, the dogs are comprised largely of Pit Bulls and Pit mixes. Pit Bulls, no matter how nice, are among the hardest dogs to place in responsible homes. Many "no kill" shelters and rescue groups do NOT take Pit Bulls or Pit mixes.

Because it is impossible for a poorly funded Animal Control shelter to "isolate" all new animals coming into its shelters for medical concerns, this means that often healthy animals will be exposed to sick one in the various wards. Add to that, the stress and fear that so many animals suffer when coming into a strange and frightening environment, and you have the perfect recipe for spreads of illness, most notably, "Upper Respiratory Infections."

URI's are probably the biggest problem plaguing ALL shelters, but particularly "all admittance" shelters as "colds" are so hard to prevent and control in environments with high volume of animals in close and crowded quarters.

For those "no kill" shelters which can better control the numbers of animals they take in (i.e. say "no" to most homeless animals) and have the ability, space and resources to isolate new animals, URIs are better controlled, but not entirely eliminated.

I personally don't know of any shelter or rescue group that has been able to totally avoid or eliminate URIs, even when limiting animals and following medical protocols. It's like offices or schools trying to prevent or eliminate "colds" among work staff or pupils.

Moreover, those animal control shelters trying to "hold" animals longer for purposes of adoption possibility or rescue are far MORE likely to run into greater URI problems, simply for the reason of keeping animals longer in crowded spacing with poor ventilation.

One way to better "control" or even eliminate URI infections in euthanizing shelters?

Kill the animals quicker.

Don't bother to treat or try to isolate animals with URI in a "sick ward." Just kill them after the first sneeze.

There was a time when such policy was followed at the AC&C (when it was formerly "CACC"). Those animals who could be killed quickly were "euthanized" as soon as their "stray" or other mandatory "holds" were up and they sneezed once.

But, then we, the activists complained about those policies and even protested CACC. We were successful in gaining media coverage and City Council hearings. There were times when CACC was killing 78% of the animals who came into its shelters.

But, in 2002 Ed Boks was hired as the new Director of CACC.

Boks came in with vision and grand, ambitious plans of making AC&C eventually "no kill."

While some (like myself) would call such "visions" naive, Boks, in many ways proved us naysayers wrong to marked degree.

There were major and very positive staff changes in the shelters. There was outreach and invitation to new volunteers, as well as those trained in assessing animal behavior. There were renovations to the shelters, making them more inviting and "cheerful" to the public. There was better care of the animals. There was active participation in "offsite adoption events" and other innovative programs. There was a lowering of adoption fees in order to facilitate and increase adoptions. There was outreach to the media to better promote AC&C animals. There was even a personal appeal from Boks for placement of AC&C's adoptable Pit Bulls.

There was appeal and outreach to rescue groups. Under Bok's direction, the AC&C put forth the "New Hope" program which was specifically designed to get more animals out to rescue. About a year ago, they began to print and email notices and pictures to "New Hope Partners", of animals whose "time" at the shelter was about to run out. This was in the hope that many animals on the "euth list" could enjoy last minute saves (and indeed has resulted in reprieves for many).

But, most of all, we finally had a Director of AC&C who would LISTEN to suggestions and was OPEN to changes and OPEN to learning, sharing and seeking solutions to problems.

We NEVER had that before!

A few weeks ago, I personally met with veterinary staffers at the Manhattan shelter to discuss URI problems and how better to possibly prevent and treat them. A few weeks before that, I met with other staffers and management at the Manhattan shelter to discuss better breed descriptions of animals, as well as other matters.

All of these meetings took place at Ed Bok's urging and encouragement.

I have also been encouraged to go over the New Hope list every day and point out, through emails, any errors in breed descriptions or make suggestions for better animal clarifications.

A few days ago, I shared information with Boks and other staffers about the benefits of double kitten adoptions and he requested that I send him an electronic copy of a flier, for possible printing and distribution to the public.

Does ANY of this sound like a Director who "didn't care about" the animals?

Does any of this sound like someone who was in some kind of ivory tower not paying attention to what was going on in the shelters?

The job of a good Shelter Director is to delegate responsibilities to qualified people, to be open to suggestions from outside experts in various fields of animal work, to put forth innovative and progressive ideas, plans and initiatives, to follow laws and city protocol for the operation of AC shelters and if possible, to create positive change. Boks did all of those things -- sometimes going against established "protocols" and bureaucracy.

The job of a shelter Director is not to clean out kennel cages or personally treat sick animals. There are hired staffers for those important duties. Those who have complained that Boks primarily worked in the downtown office, seem to forget that the administrative offices ARE the workplace for all AC&C executive staff.

Those who work in animal rescue, (whether dealing with strays or shelter animals) HAVE to be prepared to deal with sick animals. It goes with the territory of rescue. It is, sadly, par for the course of this work.

Few animals come off streets in the "prime of health." And sadly, many if not most of the animals coming into city shelters have often suffered physical and emotional neglect. It is not the shelter's job to be "miracle worker" and suddenly transform a frail or neglected animal into one of optimum health in a matter of days or a couple of weeks.

That is the responsibility of those who elect to adopt and bring the animal into the personal home or the rescuer who agrees to take on an animal who needs saving.

That some private vets overcharge people to treat a URI infection or that a small number of rescued animals may succumb to some disease is not the fault of a Shelter Director.

Those dedicated souls rescuing animals from the streets will also have many a sad tale to tell about some animals, who, despite veterinary treatments don't make it. When first in rescue work, my focus was on animals from our streets and I ran into Distemper in kittens, as well as FIP. Should I have been blamed because some of these animals died, despite all attempts to treat and save them? I hope not.

But, then neither should Boks (or any shelter Director) be blamed because some animals, despite all attempt to save them, don't make it. As said, such events are par for the course of animal rescue, especially when those rescues are done in volume.

We have to remember that about half of all AC&C animals come into the shelters as "strays."

In many cases, they are undernourished, often dirty and matted and suffering from parasites.

The AC&C deworms, vaccinates, tests and if healthy enough, neuters all animals going out to adoptions or rescue. For more than a year now, the AC&C has also been giving out medications and antibiotics to rescuers taking animals with URIs.

I ask: What more could Boks or AC&C been expected to do?

It is always heartbreaking to hear that an animal rescued later could not be saved from some deadly illness. All of us in rescue have run into those situations on rare occasions and it is something we never "get used to." It is absolutely the hardest part of this work.

But, to look for someone to pin the blame on and then say that someone else will "do better" is simply (to my mind), delusional.

There are never "easy answers" in rescue and there certainly are no "easy answers" in running the largest animal control shelter in the country.

It is a thankless job for which the few who are uniquely qualified (like Boks was) will now run from the "opportunity" of being a target for some ill informed or particularly vicious "activists."

I fear to think that perhaps the only people willing to take this job now are those who don't care about animals or "animal lovers" at all.

I pray that author and animal behaviorist Brian Kilcommins isn't right when he predicts AC&C "will become a meat grinder."

Still, knowing how complaints of "animal sickness" were handled in the past at CACC, (kill 'em as soon as possible) I sadly think he may be right.

If such occurs, we will have only the more vitriolic and ill informed among us to blame.

As Peta says, "Good Intentions Are Not Enough." It's also important to think about the consequences of actions.

I sadly believe with the loss of Boks, the consequences for the animals will not be those that please us.

I pray, pray, pray I am wrong on this.

Patty Adjamine

(New Yorkers for Companion Animals)