Combatting the Biggest Causes of Animal Vulnerability in NYC and Beyond

June 18, 2019


By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA CEO

In the photo above is Koko. Last fall, Koko’s owner Antonio brought her to the ASPCA’s mobile veterinary clinic in East New York because her skin had developed raw, irritated patches that were likely infected. 

Like our other clinic clients, Antonio and his family have unlimited love for Koko. But they have limited resources to care for her medical needs because Antonio lost his job after a workplace injury. The family feared they might have to take Koko to a shelter, which could be perilous for Koko and put stress on the shelter’s space and resources.

Koko at the clinic seeking treatment

Our ASPCA Community Medicine team diagnosed Koko with a specific form of mange, but told Antonio two things that calmed his fears:

1) Koko’s condition was treatable.

2) The ASPCA would cover the cost of that treatment.

After a few months of repeated visits to the ASPCA’s clinic and consistent care from Antonio, Koko’s skin cleared up, and she is back to being the playful family puppy she was always meant to be. Antonio also recently had Koko spayed on one of our spay/neuter mobile clinics.

Koko and Antonio's child

A Major Commitment to Improving Animals’ Lives

Koko and Antonio’s story demonstrates what can be achieved when an owner’s financial limitations and a pet’s vital needs are addressed simultaneously and compassionately. And when you consider that more than 22 million dogs and cats nationwide are living in poverty, it’s easy to see the need for helping vulnerable owners and animals on a massive scale.

Koko, Anthony, and his child

To address this need and others, the ASPCA is committing $45 million to combat some of the biggest challenges faced by owned and shelter animals, including making basic veterinary care more accessible and affordable, providing effective behavioral rehabilitation for victims of cruelty, and extending the benefit of these protocols by sharing data and learnings related to each on a national level.

The new initiative breaks down into three major elements:

1. Improving access to veterinary care for low-income pet owners.

The key here is focusing on the causes of animal homelessness and vulnerability, not just their consequences. ASPCA research shows that a lack of affordable veterinary care and limited access to spay/neuter services are primary contributors to pet relinquishment and that many of these challenges can be effectively alleviated with minimal resources. 

Responding to this, the ASPCA will build a network of Community Veterinary Centers across New York City to provide low-income pet owners in underserved communities with basic and preventive veterinary care, including vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries. The first ASPCA Community Veterinary Center is scheduled to open in the Bronx in fall 2019, followed by Brooklyn in 2020 and Manhattan in 2021.

These centers will impact tens of thousands of animals each year as well as yield critical insights that can make diagnostic and treatment protocols more efficient. Once tested and proven, these new protocols will be shared with the veterinary professionals and the animal welfare community, helping to make primary veterinary care more affordable and accessible nationwide. 

2. Addressing the complex needs of animal cruelty victims housed in shelters. 

In 2021, we will open the ASPCA Recovery and Rehabilitation Center in the Hudson Valley area, a 50,000 square-foot facility that will more than double our current capacity to care for dogs rescued through our partnership with the NYPD. 

At this facility, we will use state-of-the-art medical and behavioral interventions to heal and rehabilitate canine victims of acute physical violence, emotional trauma and severe neglect to improve their quality of life and prepare them for adoption. To maximize our impact, we will study how to most effectively resolve behavior problems commonly seen in animal cruelty victims such as hyperarousal, fear, anxiety and reactivity toward other dogs—all of which limit a dog’s chances for adoption.

The knowledge we gain from this innovative work will be shared with the animal welfare community through the ASPCA Learning Lab Program at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Weaverville, North Carolina. Our hope is that the work of these two facilities and their impact on other shelter programs will dramatically decrease the number of dogs euthanized for behavior issues around the country.

3. Renovating the ASPCA Animal Hospital to maximize capacity and enhance patient care. 

With ASPCA Community Veterinary Centers in three boroughs and a dedicated facility for the longer-term rehabilitation of animal cruelty victims in place, the ASPCA will renovate the ASPCA Animal Hospital to enhance our ability to provide critical inpatient care to animal cruelty victims as well as to owned animals from low-income households. 

These patients will be primarily referred through the ASPCA’s new network of Community Veterinary Centers, partner veterinarians, Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), the ASPCA’s Community Engagement efforts and our partnership with the NYPD.

Looking Ahead

We are excited to take this ambitious step to improve and protect the lives of New York City-area animals and inspire similar efforts nationwide through what we test, learn and share. You can help advance our work and elevate levels of compassion and animal welfare in your community by sharing these ideas with your veterinarian, local shelters and rescue groups.

Koko in a vehicle

As this program develops, I thank you for your support, for loving and caring for the animals in your life, and for helping us make love and care possible for so many other pets and people.