Roger Rabbit and the facts of life
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:
NEW YORK––Seriously asserting in
his 1996 book A Perfect Harmony that rabbits are
capable of immaculate conception, American
SPCA president Roger Caras reached for another
miracle of harmony as regards pet reproduction in
the summer edition ofASPCA Animal Watch.
At issue: the clash between advocates
of traditional “full service” shelters, which do
dog and cat population control killing, and converts
to the separation of animal control from
other humane services, as in San Francisco.
Inspired by the success of San Francisco
in becoming the first “no-kill” city in 1994, Caras
himself in 1995 led the ASPCA in breaking from
a century-long tradition of serving as the New
York City animal control agency.
But someone else must do animal control
successfully if the ASPCA is to emulate the
SF/SPCA in providing sufficient non-animal control
humane services to create a no-kill New York.
Forming the New York City Center for
Animal Care and Control in direct emulation of
the San Francisco Department of Animal Control,
with consulting help from SF/DACC director Carl
Friedman, founding NY/CACC chief Marty
Kurtz ambitiously involved grassroots
adoption/rescue groups, cajoled Friends of
Animals and the Fund for Animals into escalating
support of low-cost neutering, formed an adoption
alliance with the North Shore Animal
League––and ran afoul of activist malcontents,
disgruntled staff fired in the effort to build a professional
team, and New York’s notoriously
aggressive tabloid media.
Finishing Kurtz, in January, was one
statistic: despite his effort, New York City animal
control killing rose from an all-time low of
40,000 in 1995 to 45,000 in 1996, ending a trend
of declines dating to 1962, when ASPCA population
control killing peaked at 250,000 animals.
No one seemed to want to succeed
Kurtz. One well-regarded candidate after another
reportedly backed away, as the NY/CACC board
couldn’t offer enough money to offset the evident
grief coming with the hostile territory. Nor could
the NY/CACC board offer job security.
NY/CACC board members Louise
Murray and Rosemary Joyce blamed the mayor’s
office for the i m p a s s e at a June 16 city council
hearing, and were fired just hours later.
Thus Caras undertook to explain to New
Yorkers the realities of animal control, including
that New York City isn’t really losing the fight
against pet overpopulation. Indeed, New York
City in 1995 actually killed slightly fewer animals
per thousand human residents than San Francisco,
5.5 to 6.5, albeit that New York apparently had
and still has far more homeless cats.
But Caras tried to teach patience by
asserting that San Francisco still kills adoptable
animals––citing statistics from 1993-1994, one
fiscal year b e f o r e the SF/SPCA and SF/DACC
formed the Adoption Pact to end such killing.
In fact, in 1996-1997, SF/DACC and
the SF/SPCA together euthanized 3,089 non-rehabilitatable
animals, and SF/DACC also killed
1,212 who might have been rehabilitatable but
were in distress. The total of 3,301 and the
euthanasia rate of 4.6 per capita were both new
lows for major cities, as SF/SPCA president
Richard Avanzino soon informed Caras.
But there was a more important matter
yet to be explained: The Surge.
The Surge, as Avanzino and ANIMAL
P E O P L E have cautioned before, comes whenever
an animal care and control system wins
markedly more public confidence: when more
people bring unwanted litters into shelters, who
would otherwise abandon them to “give them a
chance.” Once in a shelter, those people can be
offered low-cost or free neutering of parent animals.
When this is done successfully enough,
The Surge is a two-to-three year phenomenon,
coming several years into the evolution of a successful
anti-overpopulation program. It can be
distinguished from failure because it consists of
owner surrenders, mostly of litters, not stray
pickups, and comes even as intakes of sexually
intact adult animals plummet. The Surge ends
when neutering the parents of surrendered litters
finally brings the local pet birth rate to less than
adoption demand, typically in about the fifth year
of a successful program.
The Surge is predictable and recognizable.
Many communities have already weathered
it, and are now seeing shelter intakes and killing
fall again, fast. But The Surge still sabotages
innovative animal shelter directors, too, when
activists, communities, and media aren’t educated
as to what it is and means