From a NYC member of the rescue community, dated December 3, 2005.
Please be aware of the paragraph in red below where Ed is quoted as saying:
"Nobody wants to come to a place that they think is depressing or primarily kills animals." Boks answered with sincere conviction. "By presenting a more positive agenda and goals, by renovation and creating more inviting and cheerful accommodations, by participating in more off-site events, we are attracting many more adoptions and volunteers. Our adoptions are way up!"
This too is my opinion. If the LAAS is continuously characterized as abusive, incompetent, uncaring, rude, etc., it tends to reinforce personnel's atttiudes that the public is the enemy. In addition, if the public looks on the shelters as "Deathcamps," it certainly would dissuade the average adopter, except out of guilt, in order to prevent another animal from being killed. Guilt is not a strong motivator.
Therefore, the extreme negativity being directed at LAAS by a few activists, means death for more animals. The animals' blood, as they would say, is on their heads.
Note that the NYC euthanasia rate dropped from 78% to 48%, which meant almost a 40% drop in the euthanasia rate in less than two years. Mr. Boks and LAAS along with the rescue community is achieving over a 30% rate decrease in the first three months of this year alone, and each month the decrease gets larger compared to the year before.
This is a time for cheering, not jeering. The hatemongers, as I call them, are preventing the community from coming together in joyful celebration of the success already being achieved, let alone the obviously upward trajectory.
New York -- The "Prove it to Me" State
During the time Rudy Guiliani was Mayor of New York City, our municipal animal shelter system, the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), was drastically underfunded, resulting in 78% of impounded animals being "euthanized."
Guiliani had tendency to place political cronies in roles of Directorship and Board Memberships of CACC, rather than those with any experience in shelter management. There was little volunteerism, few, if any attempts to reach out to the public community and generally, a poor quality of uncaring staff employed at CACC.
Primarily, the CACC operated as a kind of clandestine operation in remote or undesirable areas of the city, where animals were taken to die. Typical CACC "euthanasia"(kill) stats were over 45,000 animals a year while Guiliani was Mayor.
It had long been the practice of the ASPCA (which formerly ran animal control in New York City until the early 90's) and CACC management to justify all the killings by trying to claim most of the animals were "old, sick or vicious strays." Such was an outrageous distortion of truth!
The typical cat coming into CACC was a young adult, friendly animal usually given up from a home for reasons like "moving," "allergies" or Grandma died." The average dog was a medium-sized, young mixed-breed usually given up for typical puppy behaviors (such as high energy level, chewing or housebreaking issues). Of course many dogs of all types and breeds also came into the CACC shelters for "moving," "allergies" or something happening to the owner such as "illness, eviction, divorce or arrest."
Unfortunately, many people also lie when bringing animals to shelters by saying the pet is a "stray" because they don't want to answer questions or give an owner-relinquish donation. This results in misleading "stray" vs. "owner surrender" stats, as well as little information on individual animals. Nevertheless, the indisputable fact was (and is) that most of the cats and dogs dying in our shelters were (and are) former pets.
Those of us in the NYC animal community worked hard to bring the truth to the public via media campaigns, petitions, political pressure and even demonstrations. We were lucky to get one City Council member on our side. Democrat, Katherine Freed ran an investigation of how the CACC was operating and was successful in getting City Council hearings and exposure. Still, when all was said and done, nothing had significantly changed at CACC until a new administration, under Mayor Mike Bloomberg took over leadership of the city early in 2002.
Though not an "animal lover" per se, it seems Bloomberg had the smarts to delegate much of the responsibility for animal control and sheltering to those with actual experience in the field. In effort to "get the animal people off his back," Bloomberg supported an initiative to organize many in the rescue community together to work in concert with the city shelter system in what was to be called, "The Mayor's Alliance" for New York City Animals.
Of course the Mayor had little (or really, nothing) to do with this new fledging organization. However, the name endorsement seemed to make it easier to secure a 15 million dollar grant donation through "Maddie's Fund" -- a special fund originated in California by some wealthy benefactor to help save shelter animals and strays nationwide whose communities were making a bonified effort to neuter animals and lower kill numbers in shelters.
After attending one early meeting, I decided not to sign NYCA up to be a member of the "Mayor's Alliance" for several reasons.
First, I was skeptical of the name itself and felt it to be deceptive to the public. One got the impression that the Mayor and City Council had suddenly passed a law that the city would "no longer kill animals." Many wishful-thinking New Yorkers did indeed interpret the name to mean that as I heard voiced numerous times while showing cats for adoption publicly. Adding to this deception, were the press interviews and statements by Mayor's Alliance head and attorney, Jane Hoffman that seemed to suggest that the various no kill shelters and rescue groups were somehow a "solution" to all of New York's abandoned animals and strays. We were going "to be a no-kill city by 2005!" (later this was changed to "2009"). "No kill city by 2005?"
Such was totally delusional to my way of thinking -- and certainly representing a great lie to the public and the press. Of course, Jane Hoffman was talking about "goals,"but the reality is that many people don't hear the word, "goal," but rather, the buzz term, "no kill." Many press reports made it seem that New York City was "no kill" already!
I couldn't figure out whether Hoffman was being naive and overly optimistic in making such claims or whether there was conscious attempt to sugarcoat realities for purposes of fundraising and grant money or whether there were political considerations and she had to say things like these in order to keep the name, "Mayor's Alliance."
But, to me, it didn't matter, the reasons. I just knew I didn't want to be part of something that was, to me, "part of the problem" of deception to the public, rather than its solution. I did not sign up to be a member of the Mayor's Alliance and in so doing, I realized I was probably cutting off means of various support or even funding. -- Funding that could help save more animals.
It was a tough decision with no easy "right or wrong" answer. Still, it was my experience, (particularly at Petco) that when one "sells out" one principle, it generally leads to more. Moreover, in cases of large, money-raising events, drives and grants, it is usually the bigger, well established organizations that get most of the financial support. Rarely, does it "trickle down" to the smaller groups.
Was the choice not to join the Alliance a good or bad decision? Three years later, I can't say for sure. NYCA has managed to survive, but definitely with more struggle. I sometimes feel regret or even guilt from the standpoint of not doing all I could have to save more animals. But, at the same time I can look myself in the mirror and feel that, if nothing else, I can be honest and direct with the public and with myself.
I am not limited by someone else's "rules," plans, perspectives, events, or corporate "Public Relations." I have better control over how our animals are properly cared for and the homes they eventually go to. Yes, it is harder this way, and the bulk of responsibility falls on myself. As a small organization with limited budget and volunteers, there are many pitfalls to be aware of and look out for;probably the biggest one being taking on more animals than what the group can responsibly and humanely care for. Perhaps the hardest and yet, most important task an animal rescue person has to learn, is the ability and strength to say, "no." (especially in New York -- a place whose people don't readily take "no" for an answer.) We're not God and we can't save the world. We can only save on animal at a time.
Rather than look back and "regret" those decisions made for better or worse (depending on one's point of view), it is ultimately best I feel, to take everything as "learning experience" and move on with the cards and path one has been dealt or chosen. Ultimately, most decisions have their "up" and "down" sides.
In keeping with Mayor Bloomberg's tendency to "delegate responsibility" to experienced people, finally, towards the end of 2003, Ed Boks was hired as the new Director of CACC. The name of the shelter system was also changed around that time to "Animal Care and Control," but I can't say whose decision that was or precisely why. Boks came with both shelter Directorship experience and a rather impressive record for lowering euthanasia stats at the Animal Care and Control shelter in Maricopa, Arizona.
But, of course there is a big difference between heading a shelter in a growing Southwest City and New York City as the populations are so diverse and different and there are particular sets of problems unique to specific location. Boks, indeed had his work cut out for him, when coming to New York!
About six months following his official taking over the helm at "AC&C" in 2004 I requested a meeting with Ed Boks. Boks was a slim, attractive man who appeared to be in his mid or late forties with neatly trimmed grayish beard and hair. He had a wide smile, grand ideas and plans about the future of AC&C -- and an incurably optimistic air about him.
After sitting me down in a conference room at the AC&C's administrative offices in downtown New York with several high level AC&C staffers, Boks presented the latest AC&C newsletter along with some other papers denoting improved adoption percentages for AC&C.
"I want to tell you about all the positive changes that are occurring at AC&C and how in just a few months we have brought down the euthanasia numbers!" he beamed to me.
"I am very pleased to see the good changes that are happening, Mr. Boks, and fully acknowledge and congratulate you on them, " I replied. "But, I am not here to discuss the AC&C newsletter, but rather, some questions I have and problems that still exist at the shelters."
Boks, like Jane Hoffman, had been very articulate in publicly expressing his goals that New York become a "no kill" city, though he was less verbal about putting a timeline date on the ideal. I told Boks that I primarily had problems with the "no kill mantra," not because I didn't also share the goal, but because I didn't see it as being "realistic" at any point in the predictable future.
"People are being led to think we are no kill already, and that isn't true!" I added. Boks answered that it was important that the shelter present a "positive image" to the public in order to gain more support and to encourage people to adopt from the shelters.
"Nobody wants to come to a place that they think is depressing or primarily kills animals." Boks answered with sincere conviction. "By presenting a more positive agenda and goals, by renovating and creating more inviting and cheerful accommodations, by participating in more off-site events, we are attracting many more adoptions and volunteers. Our adoptions are way up!"
"Again, I agree with you on that, Mr. Boks and commend the changes. But, I am worried that too many people are not getting the truth and will drop off more animals at the shelters thinking the animals are all getting adopted. Many people don't realize how serious the overpopulation problem really is. Is there incentive for them to neuter pets if they think we have homes for all animals? Its one thing to say one has a 'goal' for no kill, its another thing to intimate that we have already solved all the problems."
It was obvious that Ed Boks and I had very different perspectives on the same situation. He preferred to look at the glass as "half full" and focus on the positives. I tended to focus on the problems which still plagued the shelters and were serious barriers, in my view, to the goal of "no kill."
When it became apparent that Ed Boks and I were not going to agree on exactly what should be said publicly about the animal control and sheltering situation in New York, I decided to switch strategies.
"I'd like to discuss better identification of dog and cat breeds as this will help better to place more animals," I finally said. This was something Ed Boks was in agreement with and eager to discuss. For the remainder of the meeting, we focused on practical problems and how better to solve them. Boks requested that I spend some time at the Manhattan shelter to help new staffers better recognize cat and dog breed types.
All in all, the meeting with Ed Boks and other staffers was a positive one, resulting in some common shared goals and plans, if not perfectly shared perspectives. I came away from the meeting thinking that Ed was very well intentioned, dedicated and visionary, but a little naive and overly optimistic about what to fully expect in running the animal control shelter in New York City.
I didn't know the people in Arizona. But, New York is well known for it skepticism and distrust of things that are new, unknown or seem "too good to be true." If Missouri is the "Show Me" state, New York is the exacting, "Prove it to Me," state.
I wondered if the shelter in Maricopa, Az, where Ed Boks came from, had the same problems we had in New York with overbreeding and dumping of Pit Bulls? I wondered if the Arizona City had a large "melting pot" population of people who came from countries all over the world? Countries where, in many cases, "spay/neuter" had never been mentioned, let alone practiced?
Take an optimist and a pessimist and the truth (reality) can usually found between the two extremes. It wasn't a case of Ed Boks or me being "right" or "wrong," but simply looking at the glass from different vantage points. We had to find the things we agreed upon and work from there.
Almost a year and a half from that initial meeting, many, many good changes have indeed occurred at AC&C under Bok's positive direction. Professional and more caring staffers. Many more volunteers and adoption "events." Better care of the animals. Better breed descriptions. Better working and cooperation with rescue, particularly with the help and cooperation of The Mayor's Alliance. There are, in fact, more positive changes than what can be detailed here.
The euthanasia numbers have gone way down in New York City's animal control shelters, but sadly they still exist. Roughly about 40 to 50 cats and dogs currently die everyday at AC&C shelters in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Most of the dogs are "Pit" or "Shepherd" mixes," most of the cats, somebody's lost or abandoned pet.
As of this writing, New York is not "no kill in 2005." Nor, can it be, in my view until we solve our Pit Bull and cat overpopulation/abandoning problems. But, we are very slowly getting near the goal. The truth, again being in the middle of "optimism and pessimism." New York again being the exacting, "Prove it to Me" state.
For, as long as one healthy, adoptable dog or cat dies in our shelters, (regardless of "breed" or type) we are not "no kill."
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