SYNOPSIS OF THE JANUARY 31, 2013
ANNUAL MEETING OF THE AC&C BOARD OF DIRECTORS
For the first time in the AC&C’s history, a non-government director is named Chairman. And that means what?
As previously reported, the January 2013 Annual Meeting of the AC&C’s Board of Directors was the to-be-expected recitation of amazing statistics, success stories, and assurances that everything is fine and getting better every day. Not one member of the Board, AC&C Management or the DOH mentioned the report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer entitled “Led Astray: Reforming NYC’s Animal Care & Control.” But as we’ll discuss, the Stringer Report was an unspoken presence during the meeting.
So the meeting held no surprises … except for one: the naming of Patrick Nolan to replace Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley as the AC&C’s new Chairman. A marketing executive with Penguin Books, Nolan was originally appointed by the Mayor’s Office as a temporary non-government director replacement on the board, and subsequently given a 4-year term that’s been renewed.
A member of Shelter Reform’s board once had the opportunity to speak with Nolan. It happened right after the June 2012 Board meeting. Nolan had sought out a member of the audience who — during the meeting — had asked the Board if she could be added as a director. SRAC member Esther Koslow joined a group of people gathered around Nolan. Pointing his finger at Koslow, Nolan expressed frustration at Shelter Reform’s repeated assertions that AC&C directors never made unannounced visits to the AC&C. Nolan said he was an AC&C volunteer and indeed visited the shelters unannounced.
Chastened but intrigued, Koslow asked Nolan what he thought of shelter conditions. Nolan paused for a good 10 seconds before responding: “Anything can always be improved.”
Yes, that’s true. But the answer wasn’t very illuminating.
Nolan has been on the AC&C board for almost 6 years … arriving two years before the DOH began viciously cutting the AC&C’s already meager budget. He was there when AC&C Management responded by cutting employees and services. That same Management team is now in charge of deciding how to spend monies the DOH has promised to put back into the shelter system.
It’s premature to judge Nolan or what power (if any) he has. (Click here for our analysis of why the DOH remains firmly in control.) But it would be helpful to know what he really thinks about the DOH and current AC&C Management (the AC&C is missing 3 of its 4 tops executives).
Does Nolan believe the AC&C is on the right track and has the right executives to transform the shelter system? Does Nolan believe the DOH is a committed partner in helping care for our City’s homeless animals? Did the reports of progress by the DOH representative Daniel Kass and Interim Executive Director Risa Weinstock ring true to Nolan? (As discussed below, they didn’t to us.)
Sure, anything can always be improved, but what the AC&C needs is dramatic improvement … and that means change from the top down.
Long ago the AC&C Board lost any right to the public’s trust and confidence in anything they said about the shelter system. It was always: Everything is greeeaaaat and getting better everyday.
We hope Nolan will break that mold.
REPORT BY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DEPUTY COMMISSIONER DANIEL KASS
Daniel Kass has always been a Pinocchio whenever speaking of the DOH’s support for the AC&C and concern for homeless animals. Nothing he said at the January 2013 Board meeting persuaded us otherwise.
However, Kass did clarify one thing which confused not only us but even news reporters. We have often written that in September 2011 – to induce the City Council to relieve the DOH of its obligation to provide animal shelters in the Bronx and Queens — the DOH promised to give the AC&C a flat $10 million extra divided over a three year period.
Oh, no, says Mr. Kass at the recent AC&C Board meeting. The monies are cumulative. For example, when the DOH gave the AC&C $3.7 million in July 2012, they will give that same amount in July 2013 plus an increment above it.. By July 2014 the DOH’s contribution to the AC&C’s budget will be $12 million. But he claims that the DOH’s promised funding will continue to July 2015 when it will be almost $12.2 million, and by July 2016 …. almost $12.7 million
Okay, that’s the newest version of the DOH’s promised funding. But even if it makes good on those promises, the AC&C’s per capita funding will still end up being far below what’s needed.
Kass also asserted that the AC&C’s euthanasia rate is the lowest of all comparable municipal shelters. Interesting, but exactly which cities is he comparing to NYC? He said that 65% of the animals entering the AC&C leave alive. In other words,only 35% are killed. If we’re to believe that statistic, it means there’s still a more than 1 in 3 chance of an animal dying at the AC&C.
But there’s one statistic Kass didn’t mention: the almost 100% disease infection rate at the AC&C.
Kass offered a slide showing a dramatic decrease in shelter intake numbers. But he failed to mention a key factor in that sudden and unexpected decrease: the AC&C’s reduced its Field Operations. When the shelter stopped rescuing thousands of cats and cut its Field Services for dogs, then a lot fewer animals came into the shelter. (NOTE: The AC&C is now supposed to be rebuilding its Field Operations.)
All in all, Kass says that AC&C numbers (“adoptions up, euthanasia and intake down”) are going in the right direction and everyone should rejoice.
REPORT BY INTERIM AC&C EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RISA WEINSTOCK
Ms. Weinstock spoke confidently and clearly. (This is her second time serving as “interim” Executive Director. Prior to joining the AC&C in 2008 as General Counsel, Weinstock had no prior experience in animal welfare.)
Her powerpoint presentation offered charts and graphs purporting to show steady and sometimes dramatic improvement at the AC&C. (Click here for the AC&C’s powerpoint slides.)
INCREASED DAYS AND HOURS OF AC&C “RECEIVING CENTERS”
Weinstock said that beginning in October 2012 the AC&C increased the days and hours of operations of its Bronx and Queens receiving centers. Yet there hasn’t been the expected uptick of animals coming into those centers. Mr. Nolan suggested that perhaps advertising about the new days and hours might bring in more traffic.
Mr. Nolan is right. Residents of our two most populous boroughs are used to having only small storefront receiving centers open just a couple days a week and only for a few hours. Perhaps the AC&C should consider this advertising campaign: “Have unwanted pets? Now you can drop them off 5 days a week at your local AC&C Receiving Center. While it’s not an animal shelter, a Receiving Center is good enough for your borough. If you’re interested in adopting an animal, you still need to go to the AC&C’s Manhattan or Brooklyn shelter. Have a nice day.”
ADDITIONS TO STAFF
The AC&C added 33 new employees using an initial $1 million extra payment from the DOH. There are still 70 more positions to be filled with additional monies the AC&C received in July 2012. Some of those jobs are 1/3 filled, some are almost complete.
The AC&C is “really looking to increase” its medical staff. They want veterinarians, licensed vet techs, and vet assistants. Weinstock cautioned that the AC&C faces “challenges” but will offer to train people to become vet techs and will offer salaries “competitive” with the ASPCA, for example.
Good. Maybe the AC&C will actually have a competent and large enough medical staff that can care for the 35,000 – 40,000 animals entering the shelters every year. Maybe the AC&C can get serious about reducing the shelters’ almost 100% disease infection rate.
Weinstock didn’t mention that the AC&C isn’t looking to hire Medical Director this year, a position that’s been empty since February 2010.
Weinstock noted that AC&C direct adoptions to the public were “slightly down” from the previous year. She didn’t mention the Stringer Report’s note that adoptions have dropped 37% over the past 6 years.
But the good news, per Weinstock, is that the AC&C is hiring people for a new Adoptions Staff. Perhaps we’re to believe that the AC&C’s sudden push to create a paid Adoptions Staff has nothing to do with the Stringer Report?
Weinstock cautioned that the AC&C will focus on “quality” adoptions numbers, tracking how many animals end back at the shelter, either as returns or strays.
We believe that having adoptions staff is a good thing and years overdue. But the fact is that many of the AC&C animals never make it into adoptions or only for a brief period because the AC&C can’t keep them healthy long enough. It’s always a race against time for AC&C animals. Once an animal shows signs of illness, it’s to be removed from adoptions and the public doesn’t get to see it. It then becomes unadoptable and a candidate for the kill list.
In addition to being healthy, animals at adoption events should already be spayed/neutered so they can leave with new owners directly from the event. But here’s the vicious circle: an animal has to be healthy in order to be spayed/neutered. But almost all AC&C animals become sick.
We’ve heard of several major adoption events when the AC&C (a) didn’t bring any animals; (b) brought a few unfixed and sick animals; (c) appeared hours late; or (d) never showed up at all.
Weinstock’s description of this program had some of us wanting to jump out of our seats. Shelter Reform has long been critical of the AC&C’s “revamped” Volunteer Program which was launched in December 2010 (after shutting the door to new volunteers for 6 months during the revamping).. Apparently the Revamped Volunteer Program is now a Re-Revamped Volunteer Program. Weinstock spoke of two recent changes::
The AC&C is streamlining the process to become a shelter volunteer.
The AC&C has created a fast-track program just for fosters. Until recently, fosters had to take all the training courses expected of a shelter volunteer. With the new streamlined process, Weinstock said the AC&C recently added 17 new people who could be fosters.
Patrick Nolan interrupted to ask Weinstock how many fosters are in the program now … noting that he’s an AC&C foster.
Forty-seven (47), she replied.
Forty seven?? A shelter taking in up to 40,000 animals a year should have hundreds of fosters.
Weinstock displayed a chart comparing January 2012 to January 2013 volunteer numbers and hours and said this showed major improvement. NOTE: The NYC Comptroller complained that in 2011 the AC&C grossly overstated the number of active volunteers. So, what do these new statistics mean in terms of volunteers actually helping AC&C animals?
We urge people to visit an AC&C shelter on a weekday to see for themselves just how many volunteers are hands-on helping the shelter animals. The vast majority of AC&C animals are not in adoptions, where only so-called Level 2 volunteers are allowed to go.. So, how many Level 2 volunteers does the Volunteer Program have? How many of them are in the non-adoptions areas every day?
Weinstock listed new avenues and events for the AC&C to increase its private fundraising efforts. Excellent. However, she mentioned just one dollar amount raised last year: $25,000 from a November 2012 direct mail appeal. NOTE: That appeal asked the public to help AC&C’s efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy.
And that’s a perfect segue to the next topic.
Weinstock said that any report on the AC&C wouldn’t be complete without addressing charges that the AC&C sat by and did nothing during Hurricane Sandy. She never identified the source of those charges, but we knew what she was referring to the Stringer Report.
Weinstock said that before, during and after the the storm, there was the most “amazing” turnout of employees and volunteers at the Brooklyn and Manhattan shelters. “We were all hands on deck . … We had a full staff.” Field Ops drivers were stationed in the shelters ready to respond to calls. Medical employees were present to care for shelter animals. New Hope staff transferred hundreds of animals to rescue groups. For the first few days AC&C employees (including some Park Place AC&C executives) slept on cots in the shelters.
How could anyone accuse the AC&C of just sitting there and doing nothing?
As the Stringer Report states, the people who complained were volunteers and rescuers who actuallyvisited the shelters or tried to contact the shelter by phone or email.
AC&C employees should be commended for staying 24/7in the shelters for the first several days of the storm. And the animals already inside the shelter may have been well cared for … because there were so few of them.. Volunteers and rescuers have commented how eerily quiet and relatively empty of animals the AC&C shelters were for days after the storm. One noted that 11 days after the storm the AC&C still had signs up warning of “limited intake” and suggesting pet owners contact “Pets for Life” if they needed help to be able to keep their pets.. See http://johnsibley.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/IMG_4974.jpg
The point is that the AC&C was hunkering down and ignoring the plight of animals and pet owners outside of the shelter walls. It shut its doors to most incoming animals while expecting rescue groups to bail out the animals already inside the shelters. Rescue groups, not the AC&C, were helping pet owners and their animals in flooded neighborhoods. Weinstock said AC&C Fields Ops vans responded to calls about animals abandoned in empty buildings. She said they didn’t find any animals inside any buildings. That’s a relief. But how about pets wandering forlornly through the ravaged streets? How many of those animals did Field Ops pick up?
On a positive note, Weinstock said the AC&C is attuned to the plight of Zone A animals. They have been careful not to euthanize any animal reported to have come from Zone A in case an owner shows up to claim it.
REPORT BY INDEPENDENT AUDITORS
A representative of the auditing firm Rosenberg & Manente quietly droned through highlights of the AC&C’s Financial Statement for the Fiscal Year ending June 2012. (We asked the AC&C to post a copy of that Statement as well as the AC&C and DOH PowerPoint slides shown at the meeting.)
Admittedly, the report was dry stuff except for one item: private grants were down … by a lot .
Did anyone on the board have questions? No one did. The audit representative looked to Elaine Keane (whom the DOH brought on board 7 months ago for her fundraising abilities). The auditor asked if Keane had any questions. “Only about the reduced grants,” Keane replied and said no more.
HIGHLIGHTS OF COMMENTS BY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC
Farley allowed 15 minutes for public comments (two minutes per speaker).
Wall-Street-Accountant-Stand-up-Comic-and-Loyal-Fundraiser–for-Rescue-Groups Harris Bloom never disappoints. He asked a string of questions to the Board about their director’s duty of loyalty and skill. The AC&C Directors always refuse to answer questions. (Farley called time on Bloom after 2 minutes.)
Jay Braun, a Brooklyn resident and AC&C adopter, also asked questions of the Board. He noted that Parks Commissioner Veronica White has a seat reserved expressly for her on the Board. Was she present? No. What interest does White have in shelter animals and why isn’t she at the meeting? Is Captain Phillip Banks from the NYPD Community Liaison Department present? He has a seat reserved for him on the Board. Not present? Okay, what interest does the NYPD Community Liaison Department have in shelter animals? Dr. Farley, as Health Commissioner, has the impressive responsibility of protecting people’s health but not the health of animals. Isn’t there a conflict of interest serving as both the Health Commissioner AND the AC&C Chairman? Is John O’Connor – one of the “independent” directors — present. No? Okay. Why should a card carrying member of a blood sport hunt club sit on the Board of an animal shelter? (Farley called time on Braun.)
(NOTE: After the meeting Esther Koslow of SRAC asked Police Officer Edward DeLatorre, who warms the seat reserved for NYPD Phillip Banks III on the Board, what interest DeLatorre has in animal welfare. “I have other meetings to attend,” he replied while suddenly walking away.)
A Manhattan shelter volunteer named David asked if the Board would consider renovating that shelter. It’s outdated, said David. “The smell is sometimes unbearable.” David is relatively new to the AC&C because he was unaware that in 2011 the DOH completed a 1-1/2 year “renovation” of the Manhattan shelter. The renovation consisted of installing a new HVAC system, reducing the number of cages in the Adoptions Wards, and slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls. This “renovation” hasn’t made a dent in the shelter’s contagious disease rate, but it’s all the DOH is willing to do.
Lisa Herman, a native New Yorker and animal lover, asked the Board whether each of them surprises staff and physically walks into a shelter? She hopes that she won’t continue to receive calls asking her to pay for an AC&C animal’s vet bills … after the animal has been neglected at the AC&C. (Six months earlier Herman agreed to pay for an AC&C dog with two broken legs to be transferred to her vet. It took several days for the AC&C to arrange the transfer. Herman’s vet immediately advised euthanizing the dog. The animal was in pain from his untreated broken legs, his coat was filthy and soaked with urine, and the dog’s hind legs were scalded by uric acid.)
Julia Stanton, a soft spoken animal advocate, said that she reads reports of how AC&C animals aren’t receiving proper medical care at the AC&C. But then she gets letters from the AC&C assuring the reader that every AC&C animal receives proper care. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to arouse this board from its complacency,” she politely observed.
Tom Scopac, another Wall Street accountant, expressed his concern about the AC&C’s “inability to deliver on the great promises” being made.
Stephanie Wissinger: Will the AC&C be hiring a Medical Director?
Another person asked what “other cities” DOH rep Kass was referring to when he said the AC&C had the lowest euthanasia numbers of municipal shelters.. Certainly it wasn’t San Francisco, or Reno, or (closer to home) Yonkers or South Hampton. “No Kill works,” said the man. It’s good enough for San Francisco but not New York? “I hear that animals aren’t supposed to be killed for space here? But Bronx and Queens don’t have shelters? It’s insane, just intake centers. How is this possible?”
Nicky Gondell suggested that the AC&C renovate the shelters to make them more friendly. One thing that can be done immediately and easily is to extend the euthanasia list to 24 or 48 hours. “We have only 12 hours to scramble around and try to find rescues. … There’s something about seeing an animal on a euth list that galvanizes people to take action.”
Sharon Fiyalka (a former AC&C Volunteer): “I’m impressed you’re really going to do an adoptions push, but what really scares me is that people have no clue what the AC&C is. I have 25 years of advertising experience, which suggests to me that you need to do an advertising campaign. … Also you should post [today’s] power point presentations on the AC&C’s website so that people who weren’t able to attend the meeting can read them.”
[i] We’ve listed what we view as the highlights of Weinstock’s report. Five days after the Board meeting, the AC&C posted a link to Weinstock’s powerpoint presentation. http://nycacc.org/pdfs/boardmeetings/BoardMeeting01312013.pdf