Is the ASPCA a dog-in-the-manger? by Garo Alexanian

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1993:

Last month’s historic announcement from the
American SPCA that it would no longer bid for the $4.5
million contract for operating a pet-killing facility for the
City of New York was apparently motivated by the intro-
duction of Assembly Bill 5376A just three weeks prior.
This bill would finally bring New York City’s
counties (boroughs) parity with all the other counties in the
state with respect to the formation of county-wide Societies
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Whereas almost
all other counties in the state have the right to have their
own county-wide SPCA, the boroughs of Manhattan,
Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn are prohibited from
so doing by state law. An SPCA is basically a volunteer
police force for animals. Functional SPCAs are essential to
shape the public’s attitude, behavior, and compliance with
responsible pet ownership laws. SPCAs help determine
which animal crimes get investigated and prosecuted, and
more importantly, w h o gets prosecuted. If it chose to, a
borough SPCA might bid on any or all of the $4.5 million
contract the ASPCA has relinquished.

In his TV news appearance, ASPCA President
Roger Caras admitted that the ASPCA had “strayed” from
its mission and purposes in the 1890s, when soon after
founder Henry Bergh’s death in 1988 the ASPCA began to
kill New York City’s unwanted pets. In the written news
release, however, Caras claimed that the $4.5 million ani-
mal control contract had “sapped” the ASPCA’s financial
resources. This is misleading, as the ASPCA increased its
annual income from $10 million in 1985 to $22 million in
1991, over a 100% increase in just seven years! The news
release further implies that the ASPCA’s “sapped” resources
are the reason for the well-known problems within the virtu-
ally non-existent humane law enforcement division. Mr.
Caras asserts that the ASPCA will now “continue to emply
as many of our workers as possible, placing them in our
expanded humane law enforcement.” No less than four
times in the three-page release, the ASPCA proposes to
now “expand” and “increase” law enforcement.
But if increased law enforcement is what the
ASPCA concedes to be necessary, why is it vehemently
opposing the creation of additional SPCAs in New York
City? Why is it opposing AB 5376A? It appears plausible
that the ASPCA made this “historic” announcement at this
time not for any of the reasons cited on the TV news, nor in
their news release, but rather as a strategic maneuver in
their opposition to 5376A. The ASPCA can now contend to
the legislature, the city, and the public that the ASPCA’s
resources will no longer be sapped by animal control, and
that their increased and expanded humane law enforcement
precludes the obvious need for county-wide SPCAs in New
York City.
Moreover, in a recent ASPCA mailing, ASPCA
president Roger Caras states their recommendation that the
Legislature create a New York Animal Control Authority.
Surely Mr. Caras will admit to what virtually every citizen
in New York City knows to be true: that a public authority’s
handling of animals would be no better than the ASPCA’s
own past record. The Transit Authority, the Housing
Authority, and the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority
are examples of the debacles of the Public Authorities Law.
Do we really want another impersonal, incompetent, and
intransigent public authority loose in New York City?
Especially when the services to be provided are so complex,
very diverse, and require organization, cost-efficiency,
expertise, a n d compassion? No public authority yet has
possessed any of these qualifying criteria. To anticipate the
creation of the first for animals is preposterously humorous
and unrealistic.
In proposing such an obviously misguided
approach, I question whether the ASPCA’s motive for
opposing 5376A isn’t their concern that the competition
between neighboring borough-wide SPCAs might actually
result in competent and cost-effective community-based ser-
vices, and perhaps even end euthanasia, leaving everyone
to wonder why the ASPCA was not able to control this
problem during their 100 years of experience. The ASPCA
has blamed the city, the unions, the legislature (for failing
to put an additional tax on pet food to pay them additional
monies for animal control), the district attorneys (for
allegedly failing to prosecute animal crimes), and the public
at large for the existence of the animal crisis within New
York City and state. Yet when numerous ASPCA members,
including ASPCA board members, and other animal organi-
zations sued the ASPCA in 1945, 1952, 1960, and 1975
for allegedly violating its purposes, the ASPCA did not
budge, let alone admit to straying. Despite founder Henry
Bergh’s vehement opposition to the use of animals for vivi-
section, the ASPCA once had contracts for supplying ani-
mals for vivisection. The ASPCA further fought to retain
the Metcalf-Hatch Act, which permitted pound seizure.
The ASPCA has resisted all legal attempts to force the
restoration of its bylaws to their original form, which
allowed a l l board members to be elected by the general
membership. The ASPCA is now fighting to keep a bill to
authorize unnecessary and cruel cat intubation alive for yet
another city contract. (The bill would authorize paramedic
trainees to practice intubation on cats who are anesthetized
at the ASPCA clinic for neutering.) It is also fighting to
prevent the creation of desperately needed additional mech-
anisms for protecting animals in New York City by oppos-
ing 5376A.
The ASPCA has no right to blame anyone other
than its own five lifetime board members, who under the
bylaws as amended in 1900 and 1907, cannot be replaced by
the membership, regardless of anything they do or don’t do.
And we thought that nobody could “own” a charity.
Editor’s note: Of the 21 members of the ASPCA
board of directors, Bernard McGivern, Harold Finkelstein,
James Stebbins, Thomas Tscerepine, and board chairman
Thomas McCarter never stand for election, and are permit
ted to select their own successors.
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