American SPCA drops New York pound contract: “Killing animals shouldn’t be the business of a humane society.”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:

NEW YORK, N.Y.––The Amer-
ican SPCA announced March 25 that it will
cease providing animal control service to
New York City after September 1994, and
will begin turning operations over to the city
as promptly as possible.
Losing money on animal control
work, the ASPCA has threatened to pull out
many times since 1977, most recently in
1991. Each time, New York offered conces-
sions and the work of picking up and eutha-
nizing strays went on as usual. In 1991, for
instance, the ASPCA returned responsibility
for selling dog licenses to the city––an intend-
ed fundraising function that had become a
loser––and accepted a bigger direct subsidy

This time, though, ASPCA presi-
dent Roger Caras told media, the primary
issue wasn’t the new $4.5 million pound con-
tract just negotiated with New York for fiscal
1993––although the issue was essentially
money. Caras said the ASPCA had lost $6
million over the past four years, including $1
million a year on provided pound services
despite the substantial city subsidy.
Added ASPCA spokesperson Howard Rubenstein,
publicity over the number of animals the ASPCA eutha-
nizes has hurt donations. “The image of being a killing
machine is distasteful to many, many people,” he said.
“Instead of going to research and development, contribu-
tions were being used to kill animals.”
Only about 140,000 of the 400,000 active donors
to the ASPCA live in the New York City area, compound-
ing concern on the board of directors that the donor base
might be alienated by the continuing emphasis on pound
service––which the ASPCA, founded in 1867, has provid-
ed since 1894.
“We want to get back to saving animals,” Caras
emphasized. “Animal control has sapped our humane soci-
ety of its emotional and financial resources, pulling us
away from our efforts in the areas of humane education,
law enforcement, legislation and advocacy––efforts which
can help us end the cycle of overpopulation and maltreat-
ment of animals in our society.”
In fact, by joining many other organizations in
bringing pet overpopulation to public attention, the ASPCA
has substantially reduced its euthanasia numbers. In 1992
the ASPCA received 56,000 animals, euthhanizing
33,857––a 38% improvement since 1986, when 68,000 ani-
mals were received and 54,575 were euthanized. But indi-
cations are that little more can be achieved without signifi-
cantly increasing funding for subsidized neutering and mul-
tilingual humane education in poverty areas.
Caras did not apologize for euthanizing animals.
“These animals most assuredly had to be euthanized,” he
said before a battery of TV cameras. “But killing these
unfortunate animals should not be the primary business of a
humane society.”
The ASPCA has assigned staffer Steve
Zawistowski to work with New York City health and
human services director Caesar Peralis in planning the
transfer of duties to the city, which has never had any ani-
mal control department or facilities of its own. Since the
ASPCA will continue to direct animal control operations
during the early part of the transfer period, Zawistowski
suggested that, “For the next year, I don’t think the people
of New York are going to notice a difference.”
Zawistowski said the future of the ASPCA’s $4
million shelter on 110th Street, opened only last summer,
is uncertain. “The city may buy it from us, lease it from us,
or may build something else,” Zawistowski speculated.
Some sort of sale or lease arrangement is most likely, how-
ever. As Zawistowski explained, “Our two shelters, the
one on 110th and the one in Brooklyn, are the only two
high-volume animal sheltering facilities in New York.”
ASPCA will still run shelter
The ASPCA is not getting out of sheltering entire-
ly. While former ASPCA president John Kullberg specu-
lated in 1991 that the organization might eventually relin-
quish shelter functions to focus on advocacy, Zawistowsky
insisted that isn’t the present plan. “Wo do intend to run a
shelter,” he maintained. “What we want to do is reach a
position where the amount of killing we have to do doesn’t
have a degrading effect on all of our other services.
Essentially we want to have an owner-consent facility,
where people bring in their animals to try to have them
adopted, with the understanding that euthanasia may be
necessary as a last resort if we can’t find the animals new
homes. We want to expand our neutering and placement
services. We don’t want to be in the position of always
bringing in thousands of animals for whom there is no alter-
native but euthanasia.”
The ASPCA pledged to “maintain and expand”
humane law enforcement, the discount neutering program
already in effect at its Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital,
and the adoption program operating from its 92nd Street
office, which currently places about 10,000 animals a year.
Reaction from the humane community was mixed.
“No one wants to kill animals,” said Friends of Animals
president Priscilla Feral. “The ASPCA has had this miser-
able job for years, and can hardly be blamed for wanting to
ditch it.” However, Feral continued, “New York City is
ill-equipped to operate a shelter system,” with perennial
budget and labor problems, “and the thought of the city
taking on animal control work is nightmarish, given the
way it has performed the job of dog licensing.”
FoA simultaneously announced that it would seek
sponsors on the New York City Council for mandatory dog
and cat sterilization.
Several other major humane societies have relin-
quished animal control to city governments in recent years,
most notably the San Francisco SPCA in 1989. In 1991 the
SFSPCA euthanized just 24 animals, while placing 4,611.
The four-year-old San Francisco Department of Animal
Care and Control meanwhile placed about 6,000 animals,
euthanizing 10,000. The combined record––roughly 50%
placement––is one of the best in the U.S., and is notably
better than the SFSPCA achieved alone in the mid-1980s.
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