I, like many East Coasters, lost power last week for five days. When I made my way from my Manhattan home to a friend's in Brooklyn, I was able to check my email. My inbox was replete with people asking me what they could do to help animals affected by super storm Sandy in NYC and the surrounding areas.
There were definitely losses in the last week. Pets up and down the coast were separated from their owners. But, thanks to the fact that the city welcomed pets into its shelters, I don't think as many New York City animals suffered during this crisis as people might think. Hearts should probably be bleeding less for the furry things, and more for the reptiles who went without heat lamps and the fish whose tanks forwent aeration. But folks weren't asking me about how to help the pet bearded dragons and guppies. They wanted to know what to do for the cats and dogs.
I made what suggestions I could. I directed people to check in with Best Friends Animal Society, the large Utah-based rescue and advocacy organization, which is collecting supplies for pets this week in Manhattan at 80 East 11th Street, Suite 301A, and at 560 West 43rd Street. (For more precise information contact volunteer coordinator Tammy Heeber at (917) 733-3076). I told people about Bobbi And The Strays, the wonderful Freeport, Long Island, shelter that was severely hit. They're currently taking donations and are welcoming handy volunteers who can help replace the sheet rock and rebuild the copious kennels that were ruined by flooding and mold. They can be reached at (516) 378-4340.
Then I suggested that they call their closest shelter and inquire about pets that might be in need of a foster home — providing a temporary shelter for an animal that might otherwise be put down for lack of space in a shelter. But this last bit of advice was only masquerading as a timely suggestion. Really, I'd advise people do this any day of the year.
In talking about the storm this weekend, Mayor Bloomberg pointed out that it's possible to laugh, cry and grieve all at once. Honestly, that's how I generally feel about pets in New York City. Some of them make me laugh endlessly — I'm a professional dog trainer, and pretty much every dog I spend time with can elicit a giggle form me. I don't just laugh with pets, however: I laugh at them, too: in a city of dog costume parades, pet booties and puppy-only swimming pools, you have to have a sense of humor. I don't worry too much for so many of the pets I meet. For better or worse, they're often treated like beloved, ersatz children. I wasn't worried about how they'd make it through the storm and the blackout. The black week meant that many pets I know only got to spend more time with their owners. And, heck, some of them could probably have benefited from short fast.
But I do feel grief whenever I think of all the adoptable animals who are euthanized using city money every day. And I can't say I shed more tears for them last week than any other week. If anything, I shed fewer tears. Yesterday was the first time in years that New York City euthanized zero dogs.
At least, this is the report from Karen Pepp, the founder of the Facebook group Urgent Part 2. For nearly two and a half years, she has been posting the "at risk" list, aka the euthanasia list, that is dispatched nightly by the Manhattan branch of New York's Animal Care & Control, the city's Department of Health' underfunded shelter system. When the Animal Care & Control lost power, they stopped sending out the list for several days. Last week, Pepp posted to the group, which has 53,000+ followers, that she feared the shelter's lack of power and the absence of a euthanasia list meant that animals were being put down at "an alarming rate." But her fears were allayed by volunteers, who corrected her: "Yesterday, no animals were euthanized at the Manhattan ACC," she told me when we spoke after both of our power had come back on. "As far as I know, that's unprecedented."
I called contacted AC&C to verify this and to find out what happened — they get a lot of bad press, but this seemed like a moment they could boast. But they didn't get back to me. So what's the reason for no list? Pepp said she thinks it's because, in the face of a crisis, there were simply more hands on deck. The normally understaffed facilities last week welcomed back "volunteers who hadn't been there for months. People are wanting to take in fosters. When there's a tragedy, everyone wants to help. If we can do this during the tragedy, we should be able to do this the rest of the time. But these are the moments when everyone stands up."
This is why, as an animal advocate, I am feeling a little bit of the mixed emotions that must've been experienced by workers at post-9/11 blood banks. Their facilities overflowed with recruits after 9/11. In the end, there was no greater need for blood after than there was before 9/11. But we all wanted to do the right thing. I stood in line with a raised sleeve at Manhattan's now-shuttered Cabrini hospital the afternoon of the towers' collapse, watching the staff bustle around to try and control the zigzagging line going into the normally vacant donation room. As they dusted off previously unused boxes of crackers, I remember seeing a hint of a smile on the bank's directors' faces. It would've been churlish, but I'm guessing they would've liked to high five.
The fact is, when it comes to pets in this city, we are in a constant state of emergency. Euthanasia is a fate faced by about a third of the animals that make it into New York's Animal Care & Control. Two to three thousand cats and dogs are euthanized by the city each month, many of them at the Manhattan bastion on East 110th Street. Animals there are put down by the dozen per day because they're deposed by owners unwilling or unable to keep them, or they're picked up by the city, usually because they were either abandoned or born stray. Many are put down because of illness, but with space as tight as it is, and with new intakes arriving daily, the definition of "illness" can sometimes be flimsy. Kittens and puppies, which require extra resources, are often put down right away.
The faces of need can be seen in the Urgent Part 2 postings. Let me tell you, any one of them would love to be in a ten floor walkup without power or running water. They even love canned food!
From what I'm hearing, the city's no kill rescues — the foster groups and handful of brick-and-mortar places that take animals from the city's ACC pound — are turning on the lights this week to find they've been inundated with foster applications from people who were reaching out during the blackout to help those less fortunate. (Of course, this is sort of a misplaced charity sentiment, since cats and dogs are largely power independent.)
On Friday, I walked by the Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition, which is a no-kill, non-profit shelter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was staying a couple of blocks away. I asked the shelter manager, Robert, how things were going there. "Great!" he said. It wasn't the response I'd been expecting. "Have you had a lot coming in?" I asked. I was referring to animals — I thought they may have picked up an extra load on their regular rounds to wrangle dogs and cats from Animal Care and Control. But he misunderstood my question. "Yeah, you know, everyone is off work this week so we have lots of people coming in to walk the dogs," he said. Twice as many people had come in to help out with their sixteen tenants, than in an average week, he said.
BARC doesn't put down the dogs and cats it takes in. Those who've found their way there are among the luckier homeless animals in the city. And they were especially lucky last week. There was not a day last week where I didn't see someone happily trotting by the North Brooklyn waterfront with Dolores, a five-month-old boxer-ish shepherd/collie-y mix that has been at BARC since someone in Bushwick threw her out of a window when she was two months old. Here she is with first time BARC volunteer walker, Amber.
As I walked into the shelter, a fellow waltzed in with Melissa.
I asked Robert to tell me a little about her:
"We found her in Bushwick. It was a fight club. It's gone now — all the dogs are gone. They all were adopted except for her. When we found her, she had her upper body in a box. Only her butt was showing. The males were going at her. They were raping her. She was pregnant, and the [people breeding her], they put her in a box and let them do it because they thought it would pump more blood into the babies. She was pregnant but the city aborted them. There were seven, and three were already dead inside of her. So, she never had puppies. She'd had six litters before then. She has two best friends here. She gets really excited sometimes with other dogs. She's five. We've had her two years here. But when I walk her in the wrong neighborhoods, all these people want her. I tell them she is fixed, she can't have more babies, and they get mad that I'd fix a dog like this."
He paused, invited her up on the table, and then put his whole head in her mouth.
I call this "The Shark."
These are the dogs of Hurricane Sandy. Their part of the city didn't lose power. Thanks to this possible spark in the hearts of well intentioned animal lovers, I have hope that they'll make it through many more storms to come. And through the dry times, too.
Anna Jane Grossman is a animal behavior expert and certified dog trainer in New York City. She has written about animals for The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Animal Planet, among other places. You can read her articles on The Dogs.
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