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.
There’s no question dog fighting is a deplorable crime. Few things are more cruel, which is why the barbaric activity is a felony in every state. Nonetheless, organized dog fights continue, attracting large and surprisingly diverse crowds of participants and spectators in locations that range from rural towns to dense cities across the country.
By our estimate, there are tens of thousands of dog fighters in the U.S., forcing hundreds of thousands of dogs to train, fight, and suffer every year.
These are not fringe or rare events; dog fighting is a cruelty-for-profit industry. In the last five years alone, we’ve assisted law enforcement on over a hundred dog fighting cases, come to the rescue of more than 2,100 dogs, and helped prosecutors file 463 criminal charges related to dog fighting. Less than three years ago, we assisted in the raid of the second-largest dog fighting operation in U.S. history, involving over 350 dogs.
As long as this blood “sport” continues, we must do more to fight it. Animal fighting laws can be strengthened to ensure penalties match the severity of crimes committed. Police officers can be better trained to identify and investigate dog fighting cases. And law enforcement can be given adequate resources to care for canine victims so authorities are not deterred from raiding these sites.
By changing our local and national priorities, we can ensure that dog fighting is seen, treated, and punished as not just a heartless offense, but as one of the most despicable crimes in our society.
Achieving that goal requires the enthusiastic participation of law enforcement, as we have here in New York with our NYPD partnership. But to explore how police officers across the country view their animal welfare roles and challenges to them, we conducted a national study of over 500 law enforcement officers.
The results revealed that while most officers consider dog fighting a “severe” crime, 40 percent said limited resources—including money, time and manpower—pose a major obstacle when it comes to pursuing dog fighting cases. And nearly half (49 percent) reported that they need more training on how to investigate animal cruelty.
When asked how much specific training they’d already received, 52 percent of the officers said none whatsoever. And 75 percent reported that they had not received training or guidance on dog fighting cases in the last year.
These results show that many police officers are ready and willing to take on dog fighters, but aren't equipped with all they need to work most effectively.
More and more, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are asking for the ASPCA’s assistance with these cases and for training on how to best investigate dog fighting. We’re committed to providing our expertise and resources to help law enforcement around the country combat this horrific crime.
But the public can also make a big difference. While every city has its own approach and barriers to fighting animal cruelty, what they have in common are communities of outraged people, eager to do whatever they can to end dog fighting for good.
If you hear or see anything that makes you suspect animal fighting or the training of animals to fight, notify the police immediately. Public tips are often the breakthrough authorities need to stop not only animal abuse, but other crimes often found at the scene, including drug dealing and illegal firearm sales.
Even if you’ve never heard about a dog fight, that doesn’t mean they’re not happening nearby. We also can’t relax simply because animal fighting is illegal. I’ve witnessed enough horrific crime scenes to know that animal fights can take place anywhere, and that they represent the absolute worst of human nature.
When we put more pressure on our local and federal government, offer more training and resources to our police forces, and ultimately give the issue of animal fighting the seriousness it deserves, many more lives will be saved from suffering.
As Big Ag continues its efforts to conceal the truth about how animals suffer on factory farms, the ASPCA and advocates continue our counterattack to protect the public’s right to know what goes on there.
"Ag-gag" bills, conceived and pushed by the agricultural industry to criminalize undercover investigations on factory farms, have been introduced in nearly half of all U.S. states. These measures are intended to silence factory farm whistleblowers—removing protection from vulnerable animals who need it and giving it to powerful corporations who hide behind it.
Last week, we launched #OpenTheBarns, a rallying cry of advocates representing interests as diverse as animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, environmental protection, and civil liberties.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues, groups like Food and Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and the National Consumers League are sharing their reasons to #OpenTheBarns.
Because food workers fill our plates, and they deserve a voice #OpenTheBarns
Even some farmers are part of the movement, because those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide. They include Maryland’s Carole Morison, the whistle-blowing chicken farmer who was featured in the documentary Food Inc.; Georgia farmer and American Grassfed Alliance vice president Will Harris; and Oregon farmer and Socially Responsible Agriculture CEO Kendra Kimbiraskas.
Average Americans are also speaking their minds, because these issues matter to them. In a 2012 poll, 94 percent of the American public agreed that "from every step of their lives on a farm, farm animals should be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible." In the same poll, 71 percent of American adults said they support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent opposed making such investigations illegal.
In a 2014 poll, 81 percent of consumers said that chickens—the farm animals most often raised for food—should be humanely raised. That alone covers 9 billion animals.
Celebrities and Members of Congress are also adding their voices to the dialogue, including Portia de Rossi, Martha Stewart, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
One reason this alliance is so large is that animal abuse isn’t the only unethical activity Big Ag is trying to keep secret. Documented investigations of factory farms have revealed unsafe conditions that endanger workers, shoddy food safety practices that put consumers at risk, and practices that ravage our environment. Ag-gag legislation can even shield puppy mills, which can fall under the category of “agricultural activity” in some states.
Whistleblower revelations play an important part in reforming corrupt institutions. Decades of undercover investigations—the very kind these ag-gag laws are trying to suppress—have led directly to critical milestones including the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual establishment of the federal Food and Drug Administration. They have also led to reform in corporate practices and criminal liability.
A broad coalition of advocates, including the ASPCA, has helped defeat more than two dozen ag-gag bills to date. Despite this, Big Ag is showing no signs of letting up. There’s just too much money to be made.
In the first few months of the 2015 legislative session, ag-gag laws have been introduced in nine states, most recently North Carolina, where ag-gag proponents are making their third try in three years.
We have to keep fighting these laws and exposing their motives, for the welfare of the animals, but also for our right to know the ultimate price truly being paid for the food on our plates.
So please add your own voice to the #OpenTheBarns campaign, and tell the agricultural industry that animal cruelty—anywhere, for any reason—demands sunlight, not secrecy.
Each of New York City's five boroughs is proudly unique, but given the strong bond between people and pets across the city, one thing they should share is a firm commitment to protecting the lives of homeless dogs and cats. Yet while Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island have their own vital full-service municipal shelters, Queens and the Bronx only have inadequate "animal receiving centers."
These centers do not provide shelter, medical, or adoption services for homeless animals. Instead, dogs and cats brought to these centers are transported to already overtaxed shelters in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Besides putting available animals out of reach for prospective Queens and Bronx adopters, this also dramatically reduces the likelihood that owners of lost pets will ever reconnect with them.
The current set-up is not just inefficient; it is life-threatening, and long overdue for correction. Making this service available and accessible to the community is an essential function of municipal government.
Intro 485, introduced by New York City Councilmember Paul Vallone, would put compassion and common sense into this process by requiring the establishment and maintenance of a full-service animal shelter in every New York City borough, giving homeless animals across the city the same fighting chance to find loving homes.
This legislation is vital when you consider that the key to saving lives is not just housing homeless animals, but more importantly, re-homing them. Even though the combined populations of Queens and the Bronx—nearly 3.6 million people—is more than that of every American city except Los Angeles and New York City itself, their animal receiving centers in no way serve the goal of adoption.
The need for this investment is so obvious that nearly every City Council member representing Queens and the Bronx supports dedicating city budget dollars toward the construction and on-going operation of these full-service shelters.
When you put this bill together with the Health Department's recent announcement to invest millions of dollars to optimize Animal Care & Control, as well as the Council's passage in January of a law to stop the country's worst puppy mills from supplying city pet stores, you can clearly see a city striving to rise above—and lead—when it comes to animal compassion and welfare.
Committing to shelters in each of these communities is a long overdue investment in animal lives, and core to the morals we hold as New Yorkers, no matter what borough we call home.
By Matt Bershadker, President & CEO, ASPCA; and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA)
In America, one out of four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime, and a woman is abused every nine seconds. Many of these women survive by courageously leaving their homes and finding safety in area shelters. But for some, the decision to save their own lives becomes much more difficult when pets are involved.
M. a domestic violence survivor, chose her life over her home, but says she “would have left much sooner” if she knew she could protect her pets. M.’s abuser killed her dog and cat, and used the act to threaten her daughter’s life and prevent M. from leaving.
K., a 34-year-old mother of two, delayed leaving her abusive husband because none of the domestic violence shelters in her area would allow her to bring her dog, to whom her children had become very attached.
Another survivor, P., said her boyfriend dangled her beloved cat out the window and threatened to kill the cat if she upset him. The abuser set fire to the victim’s apartment and her cat perished from severe smoke inhalation. P. eventually found protection for herself and three new cats in a pet-friendly shelter.
These stories are not unique. As many as 25% of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. And that fear is often justified. Studies demonstrate that abusers intentionally target pets to exert control over their intimate partners—71% of pet-owning women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abuser threatened, harmed, or killed a family pet.
This point bears repeating: victims ready to escape from abuse are instead risking their lives to protect beloved family pets. No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation and ensuring a pet’s safety. Yet despite the urgent need, only 3% of domestic violence shelters nationwide are able to accommodate victims’ pets.
That’s where the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act comes in. Reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today, this bipartisan bill criminalizes the intentional targeting of a domestic partner’s pet with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate.
It also establishes a federal grant program to help victims safely house their pets, and adds veterinary care to the list of costs that victims can recover. Additionally, the PAWS Act strongly asserts the need for states to expand their legal protections for the pets of domestic violence victims.
To date, more than half of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have taken similar legislative action to protect the pets of domestic violence victims, but no federal legislation has addressed this issue before now. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will help victims and their pets escape abusive environments and seek the safety and shelter they need, across state lines if necessary.
Encourage your representative to join the nation’s leading domestic violence and animal welfare advocates in supporting the PAWS Act. As is true in many instances, when we protect pets, we protect people.