New York on schedule with homeless pets
“There’s never been a better time to be a dog in New York City,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proudly.
The mayor was announcing the latest good news about homeless pets in the Big Apple. In a nutshell: the percentage of dogs and cats killed at city shelters hit an all-time low last year – 33 percent. That’s down from 74 percent in 2002. And the adoption rate for shelter pets increased to 66 percent, up from 26 percent.
Eight years ago, Bloomberg announced the formation of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 160 animal rescue groups and shelters that work with Animal Care and Control, which runs the official city shelters.
The Alliance is run by Jane Hoffman, at attorney with a passion for animals. Here’s a quick look back at how it came to be.
In the beginning
. . . It started with a germ of an idea … born from years of frustration.
Ten years ago, at the start of a new millennium, New York was once again on the cultural cutting edge. But for animals time had stopped in what seemed like the Dark Ages.
And while, on 9/11, Mayor Rudy Giuliani had emerged as a national hero, the animals had suffered during his reign. They simply weren’t a priority for him.
With Bloomberg coming to office, a trio of enterprising lawyers saw the opportunity for change. Jane Hoffman, David Wolfson, and Mariann Sullivan had the kind of legal credentials that make head hunters salivate. With backgrounds in corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, and an appellate court, the three had already put together many animal-related conferences through the New York Bar Association.
Recognizing that Bloomberg was a different kind of mayor, one who valued private-public partnerships, they had an idea. What if the independent groups who toiled on the ground rescuing animals could be brought together to work with the city?
Building the partnerships
“The first thing we had to overcome,” says Hoffman, “was the dysfunctional relationship between animal control and the rescue groups. The problem wasn’t getting all the groups in the room. I knew them all, so I could do that. It was getting them to realize there was something that we could all do if we worked together.”
The idea of rescue groups helping the city to build spay/neuter and adoption programs was both wickedly simple and brutally complex. And an entire city bureaucracy had to be persuaded to let the outside in.
“You have to come to the government with a solution, not with a problem,” says Hoffman. That meant they couldn’t expect government funding. But they realized they might be able to tap into Maddie’s Fund, a California foundation, as a potential funding source for spay/neuter and adoption programs. And that was a big carrot.
Next, the group began reaching out to a handful of humane organizations and rescue groups. From the initial half dozen groups that joined at the start, the alliance would grow in the first three years to over 70 groups, with breed rescues, feral cat groups, spay/neuter groups, all playing a part.
The biggest of those “groups” was the ASPCA, which, when the Mayor’s Alliance was being born, had recently brought in a new president, Ed Sayres (photo left with Jane Hoffman). Sayres’ predecessors had taken their eyes off the city, with grand visions of how the ASPCA could be more of a national agency. And their work in their own city had languished. Sayres was determined to change that.
With a master’s degree in psychology, a background in the humane movement, most recently at the San Francisco SPCA, and a Buddhist philosophy, Sayres was able to bring the muscle of the “A” to bear on the situation. He believed that the A had to start paying attention to what was happening to animals on its own doorstep.
He began by orchestrating a $5 million grant for what would shortly be named The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, providing the seed money they needed to secure an additional $15 million grant from Maddie’s Fund. It worked. In 2004, Maddie’s Fund came on board with a grant that would amount to $15.5 million over a period of seven years to increase pet adoptions and subsidize spay/neuter programs.
New York City’s Animal Care and Control department quickly came on board, too. And today, more than 160 shelters and rescue groups are part of the Alliance.
A model for big cities
Today, the number of homeless animals being killed at shelters is at its lowest in history – from 74 percent in 2002, when the Alliance was formed, to 33 percent in 2009.
The Mayor’s Alliance public-private partnership is setting — and being recognized as — a national model for community animal rescue efforts. Groups across the country are working to create animal alliances replicating the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals model.
Jane Hoffman credits the success of the Alliance to the way all the participants have learned to collaborate. “We’re on track to meet our 10-year no-kill goal,” she says. “In fact, we’re ahead of schedule.”
If and when they meet their goal, it will be a major milestone in the history of the humane movement.
An average day for Jane Hoffman includes everything from negotiating with the New York City Housing Authority to getting a transport van to a shelter that’s putting together an adoption day. We caught up with her between stops around the city.
ZOE: What’s the biggest challenge the Alliance faces today?
JANE HOFFMAN: We’re having a problem with the New York City Housing Authority which recently put in place a ban on dogs over 25 pounds in public housing. And now dogs like pit bulls are banned altogether. This has also encouraged landlords to impose similar bans. So we have thousands of perfectly well-behaved dogs being abandoned at city shelters.
ZOE: Anyone who sets up a rescue or builds any kind of animal program has to have a strong personality. And many attempts at collaboration run aground when these personalities collide with each other. How have you kept the Alliance on track?
HOFFMAN: If you want to be successful, you have to get away from this being about personalities. It’s not about personalities; it’s about the plan. We have a 10-year plan, and we’re very business-like about making it work.
ZOE: How do you make it work?
HOFFMAN: You make it work by doing the things the groups need. It’s all about the basics: setting up e-mail alerts about spay/neuter and adoption events; getting transport to groups who need to move dogs and cats around; managing it all like any other business.
ZOE: What’s your advice to people in other cities who are thinking of setting up an alliance like yours?
HOFFMAN: You need to agree on how you can work together. You may have different philosophies or beliefs about animals, but you need to focus on points of agreement.
You need to recognize that you’ll have problems, but that you’re not adversaries.
You need to inventory the kind of help that each of the participants really needs, and so how the members of the alliance can help each other very practically.
You need to set your own goals. These goals need to be practical and realistic – they need to be your goals, not someone else’s or some other city’s.
You need to get the word out so you can get the support you need.
And you need to professionalize the plan.
It’s not rocket science. And, again, it’s not about personalities. It’s about setting a realistic plan, and then just working on it.
You can do it!