NYC Animal Shelter Under Fire, as Facebook Page Vows to Save 'Bruised Not Broken' Dogs

The 80-pound, fawn-colored pit bull named Mr. Bush was not adoptable, under the assessment of New York City’s animal shelter system. He was said to have severe guarding issues, so he waited at Animal Care and Control’s facility in Upper Manhattan but was not featured on the website’s “adoptable dog” section.

Volunteers loved the dog, however, and were worried that he was soon going to end up on the facility's daily euthanasia list. But Mr. Bush’s future—unlike many of the unadoptable dogs at the city’s shelter—didn’t end with an untimely death.

After a Facebook campaign called Bruised Not Broken found out about him, he was featured on its site and quickly adopted by a couple who drove from Vermont to get him.

“We were totally upfront that he had guarding issues -- which in Mr. Bush’s case meant that he growled when someone went near his food,” said Brooke Slater, the co-founder of Bruised Not Broken. “That’s what many dogs do. That doesn’t make them bad dogs, and that certainly doesn’t make them unadoptable.”

Jen Davies, who adopted Mr. Bush, since renamed Bee, couldn’t agree more. “He was absolutely an adoptable dog,” she said. “When he’s eating, he doesn’t like to be touched. But it’s only his bowl that he guards. ... He eats out of our hands and takes treats as gently as can be.”

Mr. Bush is a living example of problems at Animal Care and Control that leave adoptable dogs vulnerable to euthanasia, said Slater, who started her Facebook campaign devoted to saving dogs in May 2010 and now has an astounding 120,000 fans.

“We started to realize that a lot of pit bull mixes were being euthanized, and most people didn’t know they existed,” she said. “We wanted people to understand that dogs were dying in staggering numbers, and we felt like it was our responsibility, since these dogs were trapped in cages, to tell their stories.”

Animal Care and Control Executive Director Julie Bank denies that dogs are not given a chance to be adopted. “That is not accurate,” she said in a phone interview. “The minute a dog is in our facility it’s on our website. It’s all real time.”

It is true that there is a list of animals on the site. But the list is not in the adoption section of the website, and it’s not easy to find. A lot of the animals on the less-than-obvious list have a photo attached, but some do not. In some cases, only approximate age, gender, and color are given.

Animal Care and Control recently has had some bad press. In September, the New York Daily News reported that a Queens woman named Diane Kurfis reportedly lost her dog only to find it the next morning in the facility's morgue. Kurfis said the dog was healthy and she and her family had gone looking for it at the shelter the night before -- only to be turned away and told to come back in the morning.

Bank said the animal was brought in by police in medical distress and the vet on call tried to save the dog. She wouldn’t elaborate on what had happened to the dog other than to say it was “in distress.”

“We are legally bound to keep a dog for 72 hours, and we then we make a determination about placement options,” Bank said. Kurfis’s dog had been missing for less than 24 hours.

A few weeks ago, an unflattering audit from City Comptroller John Liu’s office said Animal Care and Control has a shortage of medical staff that leaves the animals it houses vulnerable.

In addition, the audit concluded: “Our observations demonstrate that (the facility) needs to improve its separation of sick and healthy dogs.” According to the report, 10 percent of the shelter’s healthy ward had sick animals in it.

A shelter volunteer, who requested anonymity for fear of jeopardizing her position, said one of the biggest problems is space. “There isn’t enough room for all the dogs, and oftentimes a dog comes in completely healthy only to get kennel cough a few days later,” the volunteer said.

Once a dog develops kennel cough, a highly contagious but curable virus, it will not be placed on the adoption list, explained the volunteer.

“It’s worse than it’s ever been,” the volunteer said. “I’ve never seen such crowded conditions, and since it’s understaffed there are not as many pleas going out to rescue some of these dogs.”

Like all city agencies, Animal Care and Control has faced budget pressures. Its funds were supposed to be cut by $1.5 million in 2011, but the money was reinstated after a public outcry, and the city has agreed to increase it to nearly $12 million in 2014. According to its website, the agency received $8.6 million in 2011. But plans to open Queens and Bronx shelter facilities have been halted.

“I realize there is overcrowding. I realize that the economy is bad and we don’t have money to get brand-new facilities,” Slater said. “But social media is free, and Animal Care and Control is not doing enough to advocate for these dogs. I don’t understand why they aren’t doing what we’re doing, which is telling stories and trying desperately to get dogs out.”

Bank said the city agency does have a Facebook page, but the difference between Bruised Not Broken’s site and Animal Care and Control’s is stark. Bruised Not Broken has dozens of wall posts about different dogs every day--with stories and photos. Animal Care and Control does not post on its wall. Instead it has an “AC&C Home” tab that takes you to the adoptable dogs area of its site. But again, it takes some work to see a full list, and it’s not entirely intuitive.

“It’s not effective, and I just don’t know why they aren’t more proactive,” Slater said. “I am not trying to bash the shelter. I am just trying to point out that there are serious problems and we should try to fix them. Right now, if a dog gets a cold, they are dead in the eyes of this shelter. That should not be the case.”