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September 2001
Editorial: Political Animals

By Catherine Clyne

 


The primary elections on September 11th will determine who will be the New York City mayoral candidates for the two dominating parties. While Satya doesn’t necessarily endorse specific candidates or advocate single-issue voting, the nonhuman animals with whom we share this city are a concern that the politicians and media predictably fail to address. Environmental concerns, such as the high asthma levels in neighborhoods with disproportionate concentrations of polluting facilities, as well as the need for green spaces and community gardens in low-income areas, have been discussed and covered by the press. The candidates’ postures on low-income housing and rent control have also been made clear.

Absent from all of the discussions are the overpopulation of companion animals who are abandoned or born in the streets—the more than 60,000 cats and dogs who pass through the shelter system; the carriage horses that are such a draw for tourists but who lead miserable lives; the pigeons and rats that are poisoned; the animals in entertainment—most notably circuses; and wildlife killed by the City’s assault on insects with pesticides, to name just a few. We want to know what our new Mayor will do about all of these creatures whose lives will ultimately be in his or her care.

One of the most revealing ways to address this is by looking at a candidate’s position—or lack thereof—on the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC), the City’s shelter system whose abominable conditions and mismanagement have been covered in our pages (see Forel in Satya, June 2001 and Matthews in February 2001). While the CACC may boast that it’s the City’s only animal shelter that “never turns away animals,” the truth is that the CACC chronically fails to adopt out their charges, and the majority of the animals who pass through their doors are killed. Last year, the CACC euthanized 41,207 animals—a staggering 68 percent of its intake. This number is unacceptable and tragically unnecessary.

Over the years people have been getting the message that it’s in everyone’s best interest for all companion cats and dogs to be spayed or neutered, whether they are taken in as strays, or from shelters or pet stores, or remain feral. But given the huge numbers of critters found roaming the streets and abandoned lots and who end up in shelters, the message simply isn’t getting out enough.

Central to all of this is the CACC, which after eight years of the Giuliani administration, is in its present, overwhelmed condition. Given the quasi-nonprofit status of the CACC—which is funded by the City—and that its administration is appointed by the Mayor, our next Mayor will have a huge impact on the well-being of our nonhuman animal friends and neighbors.

Following are excerpts from statements on the CACC made by each of the four Democratic mayoral candidates. These were in response to a letter/questionnaire distributed by Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition for New York City Animals, Inc., which addressed other animal issues as well.

What Will our New Mayor do About the CACC?
Fernando Ferrer issued by far the longest statement, interestingly titled “Ferrer on Animal Rights,” and was the only politician to mention his own companion, Winston, a cocker spaniel. Currently the Bronx borough President, Ferrer said, “I am running to be Mayor of all of New York, and I include the pets and animals under our care within that definition,” adding that “we are all responsible for the compassionate exercise of our stewardship of animals, in both domestic and natural settings.”

Ferrer pledged his administration’s immediate attention to three issues: “Animal population control through spaying and neutering; expansion of receiving centers; and animal neglect and cruelty.” This last issue is quite remarkable: Ferrer said that in light of “the established link between animal cruelty and human violence, Humane Education should be an important part of the New York City school curriculum.” He was the only candidate to acknowledge a need for humane education in connection with animals.

Regarding the CACC specifically, Ferrer said he would establish a committee “of knowledgeable and experienced animal advocates to make recommendations on…the reform of the City’s animal shelter system.” Ferrer wants the City to “strive for zero kills through better public education” and referred to San Francisco’s no-kill shelter system as a possible example for New York to follow.

“We have an opportunity to reform our Center for Animal Care and Control and provide it with new leadership and vision,” Ferrer said. “Under my administration, full-service, full-time pet receiving centers will be established in each borough. In addition to serving as receiving centers, they will also house low-cost clinics for pets.”

In his “Animal Control Policy Paper,” Public Advocate Mark Green said he was “disturbed” by the numbers of animals being euthanized by the CACC and that he believes that they should “take a more innovative and aggressive approach toward pet adoptions.” He vowed to look into ways to increase the adoption rates and also referenced San Francisco as an excellent model.

Green acknowledged the need for new leadership at the CACC by saying that as Mayor he would appoint a director “who is committed to improved care of the animals housed by [the] CACC and who has administrative expertise.” Green’s failure to stress animal shelter experience as the most desirable quality for a new director, however, raises questions about his dedication to reform.

With regard to spaying and neutering, as Public Advocate, Green has suggested in the past that the CACC “should not place any animal in a rescue shelter unless the animal has been spayed or neutered first.” As Mayor, Green said he would keep a close eye on the success of a citywide traveling sterilization program that has been proposed by the City Council.

At the time of writing, the office of Alan Hevesi, currently City Comptroller, was in the midst of auditing the CACC’s operations and declined to comment. The audit will include the shelter’s conditions and its efforts to make adoptions easier. However, Hevesi wanted people to know that he would “be looking closely at the recommendations of his auditors and fully expect [the] CACC to implement them in such a way as to ensure the safety and humane treatment of pets.”

Peter Vallone stated that he is a “firm believer in spaying and neutering.” While in his current position of City Council Speaker, he was a supporter of legislation requiring that all shelter and pet store animals be spayed or neutered before going to their new homes, and mandating that each borough have “at least one full-time service shelter.”

Otherwise, Vallone gave somewhat canned comments, saying, for example, that “the CACC should also develop a plan to improve the way [it] functions and incorporate methods to reduce the number of animals who are euthanized.” He said that he believes that “the Executive Director of the CACC should be a professional who has experience.” (Experience in what was not specified.) Vallone also mentioned that a public awareness campaign “for pet-related issues should be explored.”

And what of the Republicans? Satya made repeated phone queries to the offices of Herman Badillo and Michael Bloomberg, the two Republican candidates for Mayor. As Satya goes to press, their respective offices have failed to respond with statements of their positions on the CACC and overpopulation.

Use Your Leverage!
Because so many positions are up for election and politicians are trying to get a leg up wherever they can, this voting season offers activists an opportunity to get candidates to address the issues that most concern them. Of course, the Mayor’s office is up for grabs, but so are the second most powerful City positions—Comptroller (the City’s chief financial officer basically) and Public Advocate—as well as some 30 Council seats and the presidencies of four boroughs. Whatever issues get your blood boiling, Satya urges readers to get informed and involved, and to get out and vote. Contact the offices of the candidates directly. You’ll quickly learn that they respond to the requests and concerns of potential voters.

For candidates’ contact information and to view their full statements on animals, visit our Web site www.satyamag.com. Our deepest gratitude to Elizabeth Forel for her work on this issue. Tracy VanStaalduinen assisted with this editorial.


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