When most people think about animal rescues, they probably visualize professional responders and advocates coming to the aid of dogs, cats, and other animals in desperate and sometimes abusive situations. But this equation leaves out a third party that’s absolutely crucial to saving lives: The community.
Participation by local residents is critical to complete the full cycle of animal rescue – from initial intervention to sheltering and care, and finally adoption. We don’t always get to witness this full cycle in a single endeavor, which makes our recent operation in Moulton, Alabama stand out.
The case began in late June, when we assisted the Moulton Police Department in removing more than 300 animals — including dogs and cats of all breeds and ages — living in filthy and overcrowded conditions at the Lawrence County Animal Shelter.
When we arrived, we found several dead animals among live ones throughout the property, including puppies who’d died from untreated parvovirus. We also rushed a number of animals to an emergency clinic. Other animals were emaciated and suffering from medical issues including parvovirus, distemper and untreated wounds. Some were housed in small wire crates, and others in crowded enclosures where animals fought for limited resources and space.
On July 25 and 26, we held a two-day adoption event for the animals, which was attended by well over 900 people from as far away as Tennessee and Georgia.
All adoptable animals were vaccinated and micro-chipped prior to the event, and the ASPCA made provisions for them to be spayed or neutered as well, at no expense to their new owners. The ASPCA is also helping to cover other veterinary expenses, including treatment for heartworm-positive dogs.
For the adoption event, the ASPCA also instituted a formal process, developed by animal behaviorists and shelter experts, to help ensure animals were going to safe new homes. The process included a detailed application form and mandatory meetings with adoption counselors to assess prospective owners’ home environments as well as their capability to care for an animal, especially ones with special needs.
With each appropriate and successful match, an “adoption bell” was rung to share the good news.
By the end of the weekend, 202 animals – including all of the cats – were adopted. The remaining dogs will be transported and placed with rescue organizations across the country to be made available for adoption. Some will be transferred to the ASPCA's Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, located in Madison, New Jersey, to treat the extreme psychological damage they endured.
This adoption event was a vital part of the overall effort in Moulton, and its success clearly hinged on the participation of community residents ready to demonstrate their capacity for compassion.
We were not surprised by the enthusiastic turnout. In fact, there are compassionate people like this across the country, and it’s critical to connect their compassion to causes that save and protect animal lives. Some people are already inspired and active; others are just waiting for a local event like this to capture their concern.
So what does such an active community look like? On Saturday we saw plenty of outstanding examples:
Moulton residents Brandon and Lindsey Myers, alongside their daughter Rayleigh, 14, and seven-month-old son Crimson, adopted two kittens – one orange-and-white, the other black. “We wanted to rescue an animal from this situation,” Brandon told us. “I reckon my wife and daughter each picked one out… I guess we’ve got big hearts.”
Baxter, a gray Lab mix puppy, was found in critical condition during the rescue and was rushed to the Moulton Veterinary Hospital. There he was treated for canine distemper, a contagious and dangerous viral disease. Baxter was adopted by Dan Mobley and Kristie Oldaker from Huntsville, Alabama, along with their sons Matthew, 11, and Noah, 10.
Sloan Kirby, a nurse and mother from Trinity, Alabama adopted Chloe, a tabby kitten. Chloe was one of more than 40 cats and kittens found in a filthy outdoor pen filled with overflowing litter boxes and surrounded by chicken wire.
Bambi, a lab/hound mix, was adopted by Anna and Stephen McCollum and their daughter, Maddie, 3, of Trinity, Alabama. “We saw the news story and it touched our hearts,” said Anna. “We wanted to do something to help these innocent animals.” After Maddie rang the adoption bell, she gave Bambi this welcoming hug.
This was a busy month in Moulton. But we were constantly motivated not only by the humane work we were committed to doing, but by the many hundreds of average people who showed up – and stepped up – to help us do it.
When police consider prevention and investigation primary responsibilities, when criminal laws and sentences match the seriousness of criminal behavior, and when society resoundingly rejects both the crime and the criminal.
In our efforts to stop animal cruelty, we’re making great advances toward all of these goals. This week, we’re adding another milestone to that list.
Recognizing the public’s pivotal role in stopping crime, the ASPCA and the New York City Police Foundation have just announced a collaboration to expand the NYPD’s successful Crime Stoppers program to include animal victims of cruelty. For the first time in New York City, the public will be able to easily and anonymously provide critical information about animal cruelty crimes in the five boroughs. Some of these unsolved crimes may be broadcast from Crime Stoppers vans that roam the city.
At its core, this is not just a partnership between public organizations. It’s truly a four-way partnership among the ASPCA, the NYPD, the New York City Police Foundation and—crucially—the people of New York City.
Through this partnership, New Yorkers will have the means and motivation to help city animals in crisis, the NYPD will have a valuable new resource to help them close animal cruelty cases, and the ASPCA will be able to help more at-risk animals make the transition from victims and evidence to pets and companions.
But this program relies on the public’s participation for it to have the greatest life-saving potential. So I encourage all New Yorkers to be aware and vigilant of animal abuse and neglect in their city.
One animal whose story needs public attention right now is Fraggle, a pit bull mix who, in January, was found by the NYPD zipped inside a suitcase in the South Bronx, critically malnourished and in need of immediate medical attention.
At the ASPCA Animal Hospital, Fraggle’s recovery was slow, but successful. His case generated a lot of attention, and thanks to our work with Crime Stoppers, the ASPCA is offering a generous reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his abuser.
If you have any information about Fraggle, please contact NYPD Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or go to the Crime Stoppers website.
While Fraggle’s abuser is still at large, I’m happy to report Fraggle was adopted in May by a family in Queens.
Our relationship with Crime Stoppers is another example of the huge impact resulting from our comprehensive partnership with the NYPD, which is already producing record-breaking numbers of both animal cruelty arrests and rescued animals across the city. In the first six months of this year, we’ve already seen a 28% increase in arrests and a 115% increase in animals treated over the same time period in 2014, which was already a record-breaking year.
Time and again, we’ve seen that when people are moved to make animal welfare a priority, great things happen for people, pets, and communities. This collaboration makes it clear that animal protection is not just a priority for NYC agencies, but a hallmark of New York City overall.
And on June 29, a 3-year-old English Setter died in Wausau, Michigan, after being left in a car with windows rolled up for more than two hours. According to local police, the temperature of the window glass was 121 degrees, even though the day’s high temperature was 79 degrees.
These stories add to the thousands each year of animals suffering and succumbing to heatstroke in unattended vehicles. The circumstances behind each case may be different, but the avoidable causes are the same, and all point to a single conclusion:
Never leave an animal alone in a car.
Mild weather can seem deceptively safe, but it is not. In less than 30 minutes, the temperature inside a car can rise more than 30 degrees higher than the temperature outside. This is true even if car windows are cracked open or the car is parked in the shade. Dogs can’t cool themselves down as easily as we can, and once they overheat, they can suffer serious organ damage and die.
In Tennessee last week, a new law took effect that will expand a Good Samaritan law to allow people to lawfully break into hot cars to rescue animals in danger. The law previously only applied to saving children. The ASPCA spearheaded a similar law in Washington State empowering law enforcement to rescue animals trapped in hot cars. That law will go into effect later this month.
Even though most states don’t have laws specifically addressing pets in hot cars, know that leaving a pet in a hot car can potentially be a violation of anti-cruelty codes in any state.
If you see an animal alone in a hot car, please:
Immediately call animal control or 911.
Notify the mangers of nearby businesses so they can make urgent announcements to their customers.
Stay with the pet until help has arrived.
To help prevent this kind of cruelty—and make no mistake, leaving an animal in an unattended car on a hot day is indeed cruelty—share this flyer with friends and family. Keep some in your car, so you can offer it to anyone you see traveling with a pet. And talk to your veterinarian about displaying it in the waiting room.
Last year, the federal appropriations bill for 2015 renewed a ban on the use of tax dollars for inspections of horse slaughterhouses, keeping the vile horse slaughter industry from operating anywhere in America … for a time.
This September, that ban expires, putting horse slaughter facilities once again in a position to potentially reemerge in America, and putting the burden on Congress to reinstate its temporary halt.
But while renewing the ban every year stops slaughterhouses from opening on U.S. soil, it cannot prevent American horses—approximately 150,000 every year—from being legally trucked to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.
Even when horse slaughter plants were allowed in the U.S., tens of thousands of horses were still exported annually for slaughter, and several thousand were actually imported for slaughter.
During those long-distance trips, horses are treated as if they’re already dead, kept in crowded containers and denied adequate food, water, and rest. According to the USDA, 92 percent of these horses are in good physical condition and could go on to lead productive lives in loving homes.
Horse slaughter is also a threat to human health because horses are routinely given hundreds of drugs and other substances during their lives that have not been approved by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption.
So we’re asking you to tell your legislators—especially if your representative sits on the House Appropriations Committee—to continue the ban and prevent this cruel and environmentally devastating industry from establishing roots in America. In 2011, when this restriction was not renewed, the dormant U.S. horse slaughter industry wasted no time trying to set up slaughterhouses in several states.
But we shouldn’t have to hold our breath every year while the fate of our horses hangs in the balance. So urge your Congressperson to also support the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act of 2015 (H.R. 1942; S. 1214), which would permanently ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the U.S., as well as prohibit the export of horses to other countries for slaughter.
Horse rescues and sanctuaries are doing their part to spread awareness and save lives. In April, more than 100 equine welfare organizations from 33 states celebrated Help a Horse Day, including 53 organizations which participated in the ASPCA Help A Horse Day grant contest, our annual competition to recognize the most effective and creative tactics in helping at-risk horses.
The winning organizations, which were announced this week, employed a wide range of creative strategies, but all were dedicated to the same goal: protecting American horses.
This dedicated effort illustrates the fundamental position horses hold in American culture. But they also play a seminal role in ASPCA history. Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first-ever successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866.
Bergh famously wrote: "Day after day I am in slaughterhouses … lifting a fallen horse to his feet, penetrating buildings where I inspect collars and saddles for raw flesh, then lecturing in public schools to children, and again to adult societies. Thus my whole life is spent."
The protection of horses has been a core part of the ASPCA mission ever since, including our support of equine welfare legislation, public advocacy, training, horse rescue, and targeted grants.
The work continues because it must. As the profit-driven horse slaughter industry tries again and again to reestablish its operations in America—spreading myths and misinformation to make the cruelty seem practical and even humane—we need to keep them in check.
Prohibiting slaughterhouse inspections is a start, but more comprehensive equine protection is a necessary finish. Our horses deserve it, and our humanity should demand it.
We can’t go back in time to protect animals before they become victims of neglect and cruelty, but there is a next best thing. At the ASPCA, we call it Cruelty Intervention Advocacy (CIA), a holistic intervention approach that takes into account how the societal challenges pet owners often face—including poverty, housing restrictions, lack of transportation, and limited resources—profoundly affect the animals under their care.
As we commemorate the 5th year of our CIA program, which started in New York City, I’d like to share why this uncommon approach is so necessary to keep animals alive.
Typically—and especially in the media—we focus on homeless animals at shelters, in foster homes, or on the streets, concentrating our efforts on rescue and adoption. And that’s certainly very important.
But imagine starting much sooner, when pets are still in homes but on the verge of being relinquished to shelters or abandoned to the street because their owners don’t have the financial, logistical, or other personal means to take care of them. In addition to becoming homeless, these animals can end up being hoarded, neglected, or abused.
This is the moment when targeted interventions can make a big difference—talking to people in underserved communities about their pets and the barriers they face, in order to connect them to support and resources.
The next step can take many forms, including:
Providing free or low-cost spay/neuter, vaccination, and other veterinary treatments
Making emergency veterinary care available for pets in need
Distributing free insulated dog houses to protect dogs who live primarily outdoors
Intervening in hoarding situations to help individuals reduce the number of animals in their homes, and to provide necessary care to those animals.
Connecting families to social services that may help them improve their overall conditions, which in turn helps animals.
This owner-aware approach is also very beneficial to shelters. When more pets are kept with their families, more shelter space opens up for animals who need it most, and shelter staff can spend more time and energy adopting out each animal in their care.
Our own successes help put these interventions in perspective. Since the CIA was formed in 2010, over 1,600 ASPCA financial grants have been gone toward emergency veterinary care for low-income pet owners, nearly 2,000 animals have been spayed or neutered, and crucial services have been provided in over 200 hoarding cases.
In June 2014, the CIA program expanded to Los Angeles, where our services have prevented over 1,600 pets from entering Los Angeles County shelters. In addition, hundreds of animals have been provided with vaccines at disaster preparedness events in low-income areas of New York City.
One such beneficiary is Patty, who in 2014 moved with her husband, their two daughters, and their 5-year-old terrier, Abby, from Florida to New York City so Patty’s husband could take a new job. But the position never materialized, leaving both Patty and her husband unemployed, with dwindling savings.
The family ended up at a homeless shelter, and though they tried to sneak Abby in, her barking made it impossible for them to stay. Desperate, Patty put Abby in a crate in their car. A passerby noticed and called the NYPD, who retrieved Abby and took her to the ASPCA.
This story could have ended with Abby going to a shelter, taking up precious cage space, as well as the shelter staff’s time, energy, and resources. But in Abby’s situation, the CIA team took over the case and met with the family. No citation was issued, and a foster home was found for Abby until the family could find longer-term housing. After several months, the family managed to find an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and was reunited with Abby.
It’s remarkable that Patty was able to stay connected to Abby during the most challenging of situations, but we hope to make that outcome less remarkable over time. There’s simply no safer place for an animal than in a home with responsible owners. With the help of supporters, advocates and humane leaders, we can provide pet owners with resources that will keep families intact and stop suffering well before it starts.