Why the City and Not Animal Welfare Groups?
New York City is home to several high profile animal welfare groups - the ASPCA, Bide-A-Wee, Friends of Animals, the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of NYC. And though not in the city proper, North Shore Animal League America also has a big presence in New York City.
Most New Yorkers assume that these nonprofit charities provide a safety net for needy animals and their owners. The sad fact is that they provide very little help either for homeless animals or for low-income New Yorkers trying to do the right thing by their animals.
The city can't afford to leave animal welfare up to the nonprofits for one simple reason. The overwhelming majority of homeless dogs and cats become wards of the city, and the city pays a very high price to care for those animals, even though over half of them end up dead.
And whether one thinks these nonprofits should
offer low-cost services because it's their mission, or they could
because they have the money, they simply haven't. And they won't.
The Have-A-Heart Spay and Neuter Clinic is a case in point. The Fund for Animals opened the clinic in 1996 because it believed the clinic would pay for itself by doing high volume surgeries - 70 a day, 7 days a week. When it became clear that this production-line surgery was medically unsound, it had to cut back the number of clients it took and begin subsidizing the operation of the clinic.
After a few years, the Fund began to look for another nonprofit to take over the clinic. It was willing to donate the substantial plant of the large and well-equipped clinic, and it even offered to pick up the rent for two years if New York City Animal Care and Control, the city's shelters, would take the clinic over.
No group stepped forward. The clinic closed its doors on December 23, 2003, and the city lost a valuable community asset.
Every nonprofit had its reasons for letting the clinic close. The Fund said it wanted to focus its efforts on wildlife. The ASPCA said the clinic's rent was too high. NYC Animal Care and Control said it didn't have the resources to operate the clinic. To complicate matters, new directors were taking over at both NYC Animal Care and Control and the ASPCA at the time the Fund was looking for a new owner of the clinic.
The clinic was the victim of bad timing and the changing agendas of the nonprofits that make up the city's animal welfare community.
The lesson for the city is that it can't anticipate the changing politics of the nonprofits. Nor can it dictate what these private organizations should do. Nonprofit charities have their own missions and agendas, and they don't necessarily coincide with the interests of the city, though with smart public policy, those interests could dovetail.
More importantly, only the city has the incentive
to provide the kind of aggressive spay and neuter program that will get New York City out of the business of killing household pets. Yes, theoretically, some of the wealthier nonprofits do have the money to pay for such a program. But their boards make their own decisions about where to put their money.
The city needs to work with the nonprofits, not expect them to provide basic services. And for AFNYC's proposed city effort to work, all the nonprofits would have to commit to maintaining their current programs. If the nonprofits dropped their spay and neuter programs because the city opened clinics, the city would be right back to putting down tens of thousands of cats and dogs a year.
The city clinics are the necessary base. With them in place, the private efforts of charities, big and small, can do the rest of the job of making sure that all the city's cats and dogs have homes.