Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Comparing California Oranges to the Big Apple

In the autumn of 2005 I did what few department directors voluntarily do. I asked for a top to bottom City audit to be conducted on my former agency, Animal Care & Control of New York City.

I hoped the audit would point out to New York City leaders the need for more resources to be invested in the operation. The City had conducted a scathing audit in 2002 that led to my being recruited to NYC to help turn the situation around. After two years and a 130% increase in adoptions, formation of over 150 New Hope partnerships, and a 30% decline in the euthanasia rate, I felt it was time to assess our progress with a full understanding of our shortcomings.

We still needed help, and we simply were not getting it from New York City.

Consider NYC Animal Care & Control has a $7.2 million budget to serve 8.2 million people. NYC has three animal shelters that the City had to condemn and take away from the ASPCA to give to a newly formed under budgeted and understaffed animal control program. NYC AC&C staff wages are 40% below the national average and the City does little to nothing to address this issue each year. Both NYC and LA handle roughly the same number of animals each year.

NYC's three shelters serve 8.2 million residents. Queens, the fifth largest city in the United States has no shelter at all, neither does the Bronx. Staff are forced to transport animals over vast areas to the three full service, albeit, dilapidated shelters.

Compare this to LA with a $20.2 million budget serving 3.9 million residents with eight new state of the art animal care centers soon to be opened throughout the City. These facilities will rival the finest humane animal shelters anywhere in the country. While NYC's Animal Care & Control's budget never comes up in the NYC budget process, we were able to increase LA's Animal Services budget by 11.6% this coming budget year, with an additional $3.3 million for one time tenant improvement monies, not to even mention the $150 million bond funding for constructing the new facilities and their campuses.

Clearly LA leaders and residents understand the importance of animal welfare in a community.

I requested the audit before I left New York City to highlight the lack of animal compassion in that community and to focus on three significant needs: 1) the need for more and better facilities, 2) the need for more and better trained and paid staff, and 3) the need for an adequate budget to fund humane, non-lethal programs. This audit does all of that and just in time for the current contract negotiations when this information is most needed.

This audit is now available and I believe it did exactly what I'd hoped it would do: It showed we were making progress despite the dearth of funding and support, but that there was much remaining to be done. You can read about the audit in the New York Daily News coverage via the link below, and view the audit itself via the other link.

Three important programs were inexplicably terminated shortly after my departure from NYC, the results of which are reflected in the audit. One was the termination of our PR program which helped keep the needs of the agency in the public eye every day. The second was a nationally recognized Shelter Dog Training Program that trained one hundred volunteers at a time to train shelter dogs making them more adoptable. The third was the elimination of the development department whose mission was to help offset the City's inability to pay for these programs by conducting its own fund raising, a program recommended by the City Comptroller in the 2002 audit.

It is my hope this recent audit will be used by the current administration as it was intended, to make a compelling argument for more resources to save lives!

Soon after my arrival in LA, I met with LA Comptroller Laura Chick to discuss a similar audit of LAAS. We are working out the details and timing for that process. Audits, when used properly, are merely a compass. They tell you how far you've come, where you are, and how far you yet have to go. I'm hoping we can begin this process in LA Animal Services soon.


direct link to audit: http://comptroller.nyc.gov/bureaus/audit/06-19-06_MH06-082A.shtm