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Progress in the Fight to Save NYC's Homeless Animals

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When I became the president and chief executive officer of the ASPCA in 2003, New York City's homeless animals had little chance of making it out of the public animal shelters alive. At that time, only 26 percent of dogs and cats in the city's shelter system were adopted. The rest were euthanized.

Fast-forward eight years -- now, 73 percent of the animals that end up in the city's shelter system are adopted. While that is a phenomenal increase in the rate of animals saved, it still isn't good enough.

The ASPCA has implemented numerous programs to save the city's animals, and these programs are working. For example, since a majority of the dogs that end up in the city's shelter system are pit bulls, we started "Operation Pit." As part of Operation Pit, we provide free spay/neuter surgeries to pit bulls in New York City and continuing veterinary care for them as well.

We have awarded grants of more than seven million dollars to the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, which is a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters that are working to end the killing of the city's homeless animals.

The ASPCA is in all five boroughs every single day with our mobile clinics, trying to save animals by providing free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries to more than 30,000 cats and dogs every year. We even opened a stationary clinic in Ridgewood, Queens this past spring for the same purpose that serves the animal rescue community.

But one of the major obstacles to our efforts to save the city's homeless animals is that the city cuts the budget of the city's Animal Care & Control (city shelter system) virtually every year. That has never been acceptable to us or to anyone who loves and respects animals. Thus, we have been working behind the scenes to get the city to increase funding of its animal shelter system.

I am very pleased that, after intense lobbying by the ASPCA, the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, and Animal Care & Control, the city has finally agreed to allocate more funds to help homeless animals.

Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have agreed to raise funding levels so that by July 2014 the annual budget for Animal Care & Control will exceed $12 million -- a 77 percent increase over the current budget. The influx of funds will start this year with an additional $1 million being granted to the City's shelter system. Among other things, this money will be used to hire additional veterinarians and veterinary technicians who are desperately needed to work in the shelters.

In conjunction with the funding increases, Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn have announced their support for New York City Intro. 655 sponsored by Council Member Jessica Lappin. If passed, this bill, which the ASPCA also supports, will make a tremendous difference in the lives of homeless animals.

For example, receiving facilities located in Queens and the Bronx would have to be open seven days a week to accept stray dogs and cats. Currently, they are only open one and two days a week, respectively. In addition, the city would resume its pickups of stray, injured or abandoned dogs and cats seven days a week; owned, free-roaming cats would have to be spayed or neutered; and the Department of Health would have to issue rules regarding trap-neuter-return.

The additional services that would be provided if Intro. 655 passes, along with the influx of funds from the city, will help decrease the suffering of homeless animals. Nevertheless, a few detractors are upset because the city did not agree to build animal shelters in Queens and in the Bronx. Let me be clear -- of course, I want the city to build animal shelters in the boroughs that currently do not have them. But the reality is that the city does not have to do this based on a recent appellate court's ruling (in re Stray from the Heart, Inc. v. Dep't of Health and Mental Hygiene of the City of New York, April 19, 2011) that a rescue group did not have standing to challenge the City's failure to open animal shelters in Queens and in the Bronx.

Given the appellate court's decision, I believe the agreement we brokered with the city has the animals' best interests at heart for the immediate future. Through our advocacy, we obtained a commitment of millions of dollars to fund programs that had been cut. We got powerful lawmakers to support the establishment of trap, neuter and return of feral cats as the accepted practice in NYC. We secured the Department of Health's commitment to working to increase the number of licensed dogs in New York City, which will result in more money to fund spay and neuter operations. And, injured animals that were previously wandering the streets because no one was available to pick them up will now be rescued.

I urge New Yorkers to contact their Council Members to support Intro. 655 and to consider volunteering and/or adopting a pet from Animal Care & Control (www.nycacc.org).