By ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker
For 147 years, the ASPCA has been a leading voice for animals, fighting for their welfare however we can and preventing cruelty wherever we find it. This year marks my 12th year with the ASPCA, and my first as President and CEO, and as I look back on 2013, I’m struck by three thoughts: How much we’ve accomplished in just a year, how much we’re poised to accomplish next year, and how crucial your support has been and will continue to be through it all.
Every animal saved is a success story and a worthy highlight, but there were a few key accomplishments that made 2013 such a year to remember.
Stopping Dog Fighting
In 2013, we played a leading role in two multi-state dog-fighting raid—one focused in Missouri in March, and another centered in Alabama in August—that not only rescued over 450 total dogs from cruelty, victimization and death, but elevated dog fighting to its rightful place among the most vile and despicable of human crimes. My congratulations and admiration to our many teams and staff who participated—saving lives and spreading the word—as well as to the various animal welfare agencies and authorities with whom we successfully collaborated.
The NYPD Partnership
In future years, we’re going to look back on 2013 as the first baby step in an initiative that transformed how animals are rescued and protected not only in New York City, but hopefully all across the country, where the full size and scope of city police departments can be applied to these vulnerable and victimized populations. The NYPD has always been required by law to enforce animal cruelty laws in NYC; with this partnership, they will now take the lead role in responding to all animal cruelty complaints in the five boroughs.
The first phase of our NYPD partnership started September 1 in the Bronx, with the police taking the lead in responding to complaints and enforcing animal cruelty laws, while the ASPCA has been using its expert resources to care for animal victims, including forensic evaluations, medical treatment, behavior assessments, housing and placement, and backup legal support and training for officers across the city.
As the partnership began, we hired Elizabeth Brandler, a former Bronx County assistant district attorney, and George Kline, a 25-year veteran of the NYPD, to provide essential support to the NYPD related to anti-cruelty law enforcement. George is responsible for coordinating training of NYPD personnel on animal cruelty matters, while Beth is responsible for providing criminal law expertise to assist in the prosecution of animal cruelty cases.
In late 2013, the ASPCA conducted mandatory training sessions for Special Operations Lieutenants at all eight NYPD patrol boroughs, as well as two citywide trainings for all NYPD training sergeants at the police academy. The training covers animal cruelty and neglect laws, insight into animal fighting, different types of animal cruelty, and best practices in law enforcement and presenting cases in court, including using animals as evidence. In addition, training is occurring or being planned for specialized NYPD bureaus including the housing bureau, the detective bureau, and the organized crime control bureau.
The ASPCA is also preparing for the expected increased intake resulting from this partnership by significantly increasing its own anti-cruelty investment in NYC. This includes the creation of a new ward—the Animal Recovery Center—at the ASPCA Animal Hospital for animals brought in by the NYPD, staffed by a dedicated team of medical and behavior experts to care for and rehabilitate them. It also includes an increase in our veterinary forensics and criminal law support to aid in the prosecution of cases, and the continuation of extensive training to the NYPD.
The results from this pilot phase (through December 31) have been very promising, including nearly 800 calls to 311 or 911, over 25 NYPD investigations, 12 arrests (including two in other boroughs), and more than 30 animals from these investigations treated at the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
In the first month of the pilot program alone, patrol officers in the Bronx responded to incidents including a cat allegedly thrown off a six story roof by a 10-year-old, two emaciated pit bulls living in deplorable conditions in a backyard, a dog kept in an automobile for hours in extremely hot weather without adequate ventilation, and another dog kept in a crate on a fire escape for an extended period of time. Each of these cases began with a 311 or 911 call, and each resulted in an arrest.
The hard work on both sides of this partnership continue to this very moment, and the benefits of the NYPD’s scope and size—77 precincts and more than 34,500 officers—are undeniably clear. So remember this moment, sure to be a pivotal one in the deep and storied history of the ASPCA.
When you combine animal welfare passion with collaboration, community enthusiasm, creativity and a pinch of incentive, you get results like this: 56,379 pets adopted or reunited with their owners in just three months during the 2013 ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge. During the months of June, July and August 2013, 49 shelter contestants succeeded in saving 12,000 more animals than they did over the same three-month period in 2012. The smaller headlines were also very gratifying: a 45 percent increase in volunteers and a 20 percent increase in foster homes.
And in October, 5,685 cats, dogs, kittens, puppies and other animals found new homes, thanks to stellar efforts of animal welfare organizations across the country during the 2013 ASPCA ‘Mega Match-a-thon’ event. In Sacramento alone, a collaborative community effort found homes for 507 animals, beating their previous year’s numbers by a whopping 334 percent. It’s worth noting that Sacramento happens to be one of 10 ASPCA Partnership Communities, cities or regions whose major animal sheltering agencies work together with ASPCA experts to save animals most at risk.
Fighting Puppy Mills
The fight against puppy mills both locally and around the country is crucial to our cause, not just because of the lives we can save, but because of the many places this battle can be fought -- by animal welfare groups and individual consumers. If you don’t already know – and it bears repeating – most puppies sold online and in pet stores come from puppy mills, and are commonly bred in unsanitary, overcrowded, and often cruel conditions without sufficient veterinary care, food, water or socialization.
The ASPCA’s “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign was launched in 2011 to reduce the demand for puppy mill puppies by urging consumers to pledge not to buy any items—including food, supplies or toys—from stores or websites that sell puppies. In June, the ASPCA launched a new online tool that allows consumers to link pet stores that sell puppies with USDA licensed commercial dog breeders who supply puppies to pet stores around the country. The database contains more than ten thousand photos of commercial dog breeding facilities, which not only show conditions that violate federal law, but also conditions that are legal but that the ASPCA—and the general public—consider inhumane. The goal is for consumers to not be falsely reassured when a pet store tells them their puppies come from USDA licensed breeders.
Our dedicated work has helped move key pieces of legislation that will undoubtedly curb abuse and protect more dogs. In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final rule establishing greater federal oversight of puppy mills and online dog sales. It closes a regulatory loophole in the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and, for the first time in history, requires commercial breeders who sell their puppies directly to the public—sight unseen—to be licensed and inspected by the USDA. We believe the USDA was moved in part by the over 350,000 letters and signatures the ASPCA and other organizations gathered in support of better USDA oversight.
A New York state bill, currently sitting on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk as I write this (he has until January 10 to sign it), will allow local governments to enact more stringent health and safety standards for commercial pet breeders and pet stores if they choose to do so. Currently, such local action— even in New York City—is prohibited by state law. We are proud of the critical work we’ve done to pave the way for this legislation and look forward to this being the first major piece of animal welfare legislation signed into law in 2014—what a way to kick off the new year in the Big Apple.
Our government relations team was hard at work in 2013 on a number of fronts, including the welfare of farm animals, where they scored a series of important victories related to so-called ag-gag laws. These bills aim to criminalize investigations on agricultural facilities that can expose animal welfare, worker, environmental, food safety and other violations and abuse, keeping cruel practices intact and the truth at bay.
But working with a coalition of animal welfare, environmental, and human rights organizations, the ASPCA helped ensure that NONE of the 11 ag-gag bills introduced last year (in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming) was passed into law. What happens at these farms is the business of everyone who cares about animal welfare and food producers should welcome public scrutiny rather than attack whistleblowers and cover up abuses.
A New Behavioral Rehabilitation Center for Dogs
In March, we were proud to open the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, the first-ever facility dedicated strictly to providing behavioral rehabilitation to canine victims of cruelty, such as those confiscated from puppy mills and hoarding cases. Dogs admitted to the center will undergo an intensive rehabilitation regimen, with the goal of improving their well-being and helping them become suitable for adoption. The center’s findings will be the basis of a research study that will be shared with shelters and rescue groups across the country.
In June, a previously fearful troop of Dachshunds became the very first graduates of the center and all went on to be adopted by loving families. To date, nearly 40 animals have graduated the program, and many of them have been placed through St. Hubert’s and ASPCA response partners throughout the Northeast.
Sandy Disaster Response
Though Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012, the direct effects were felt for many months thereafter, and the hard work of rescuing, rehabilitating and reuniting animals with their families continued well into 2013. Our ASPCA emergency boarding facility, made possible by a $500,000 grant from Rachael Ray, at one time housed nearly 280 animals. It remained open through early February, allowing pet owners to get back on their feet and rebuild their lives.
As a result of the ASPCA’s combined response efforts, more than 30,000 pets were assisted in both New York and New Jersey. When the facility finally closed, the ASPCA worked hard to place unclaimed animals and took some of them to our adoption center in Manhattan. The last remaining pet, a cat named Joy, was adopted on November 4 by a Sandy survivor who lost his home in the Rockaway and relocated to Brooklyn.
Granting Money, Creating Hope
In 2013, our funding arm turned animal welfare projects into life-saving realities, and planted seeds for successful future interventions. Among the 1,875 grants we approved and distributed in 2013 (including those to 423 first-time applicants):
• $500,000 to Los Angeles area shelters and rescue organizations including grants to subsidize costs incurred by L.A. City and County when they prepare animals to be released to rescues. This both eases the burden on municipal shelters and helps receiving shelters and rescue organizations direct more of their budget toward providing for the animals in their care.
• A $60,000 grant for a new mobile adoptions vehicle for Animal Care & Control in New York City. This vehicle will transport adoptable pets from AC&C to areas around the city, exposing them to new audiences and potentially saving thousands of lives each year.
• A $50,000 grant for the creation of an ASPCA scholarship program that provides scholarship opportunities for those interested in attending the University of Missouri’s National Animal Cruelty Investigations School, which offers classes in 13 cities across the country. Funding 170 partial scholarships, the grant will allow organizations with limited budgets the opportunity to learn the skills required to investigate animal cruelty cases in their communities.
We’re proud to be the nation’s second-largest animal welfare grant maker, providing critical resources that can be the difference between success and failure—even life and death—for those on the front lines of this cause.
A New Spay/Neuter Clinic
This year we also opened a brand-new stationary ASPCA spay/neuter clinic at the ASPCA Animal Hospital on 92nd street. In planning for at least five years, the facility performed its first surgery on November 5, and has done roughly 25-30 surgeries a day since, mostly for anti-cruelty and adoption clients.
In 2014, the clinic plans an expansion to include more intakes from the rescue community. In total, ASPCA mobile and stationary clinics performed more than 33,000 dog and cat surgeries in 2013, blowing by their set goal of 24,000, and preventing countless animal crises for years to come.
Sharing the Truth About Chicken
The sad truth about today’s chickens—nearly 9 billion are slaughtered annually in America—not only confirms our worst fears, but also raises all-new concerns about chickens’ welfare and our own health. For starters, most modern chickens are selectively bred to grow so large, so fast, that they struggle to simply move or stand. Even at just a few weeks old, most have such massive and disproportionate bodies that they often collapse. Yet there is no federal law that applies to how birds are treated while living on-farm.
In September, to show the industry that the American public, including chicken consumers, cares about how chickens are raised and expects better, we created an all-new campaign: The Truth About Chicken. At this time, the ASPCA is the only large-scale U.S. animal protection group working specifically to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat.
As part of the campaign, we urge citizens to stay updated, sign our petition, and take action by spreading the message and talking with local supermarkets about acquiring higher welfare, slower-growing chicken. It’s a daunting task against a big industry, but as Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
As much as we’ve accomplished in 2013, I know the best—the best of the ASPCA and the best for the animals we protect and save—is yet to come in 2014. Thanks again for your continued support.