2010-11-24 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Lose your pets in the greatest city in the world? Furgettabout’em! The economic crisis has hit everyone, but now because of depleted revenue, more lost pets in NYC will be paying with their lives.

The City Department of Health slashed the shelter budget $1.5 million over the last two years. At the start of November NY Animal Care & Control (NYCACC) cut shelter staff, hours and patrols plus shut down their Call Center. This means the city shelters are no longer taking Lost & Found reports for pets that have gone missing or animals that have been found.

Effectively, NYCACC ceased efforts to reunite lost pets that come into the city shelters (or those reported to the shelters) with their families. There is no guarantee even if the pet is wearing a collar with tags, or has a microchip-that the NYCACC will contact the owners to come and pick up their pets. Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals told CBS: “There’s a very good chance if their pet is lost, they won’t be able to find them.”

The city allegedly scans for microchips upon intake, but stopped tracing chips when first discovered. The ID numbers are noted but not researched. Supposedly, owners will only be notified when their chipped pet is re-scanned prior to euthanasia or if someone else is interested in adopting. How do you spell “ABSURD?”

Without the help of a Call Center, finding your lost dog or cat in a NYC shelter becomes a frantic race against time. After 72 hours, sometimes only a measly 48 hours, a dog or cat will be put up for adoption or put to death. Because of overcrowding, there is a strong chance your pet will get sick, which tips the scales toward euthanasia. Meanwhile, more strays will suffer and/or die on the streets because fewer animal control trucks are available.

Even before this drastic change in policy, locating your lost pet in a packed city shelter was a complex maze because incoming pets are taken where there is space, not necessarily where they were found. You could lose your beloved Bichon in Queens or the Bronx but there are no holding facilities in those boroughs; so you must keep checking every cage in the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island shelters. How many New Yorkers know this? Worse yet, how many frantic owners will be able to navigate through the shelter system in time, especially now when no one is answering the phone?

ThisNYC fiasco includes pets lost or found on Long Island as well. It is possible your pet would be picked up as someone is on their way to work and then dropped off at a city shelter. In reverse, pets adopted in the city can get lost again. NYCACC implants microchips before pets are adopted. Some folks do not register these chips. Last week, Babylon Shelter had a Lhasa with one of these unregistered city chips. Now there is no NYACC worker to call to get more information.

Phone match-ups are essential for quick recoveries and keeping easily identifiable dogs out of the shelter altogether, especially when the dog’s escape is a fluke because the owners are responsible. For example, the other day someone told a LI shelter that she found a Peke. Before she even brought the dog in, the probable owner walked into the lobby, so the dispatcher handed her the contact number of the finder. This used to happen in the city. Not anymore.

Since the call center closed, NYCACC directs people to file lost and found reports online at the Petharbor. com website. A large problem is that many people misidentify breeds and many of the dogs posted on the AC&C website www.nycacc.org do not have photos. There is NO ONE at the city shelters helping to match these reports to those animals that are at the shelter. It seems the volunteer program mysteriously vaporized around the same time as the staff cuts.

What Can Be Done: First, all pet owners in the metropolitan area need to be alerted to this lack of service. Please spread the word. The shelter system is a great equalizer. Every pet without ID, even Bloomberg’s, could fall victim to a lack of time and contact. Now more than ever it is crucial that owners microchip their pets and register their information, making sure pets also wear collars with updated ID tags at all times. There are additional tags that say a pet is microchipped. Hopefully a kind soul will take a pet to a vet to be scanned.

Good Samaritans have a tendency to hold onto found pets for varying amounts of time before turning them in, so lost pets can surface in shelters weeks or months after they vanished. Distraught owners need to remain vigilant and keep up their search.

It doesn’t appear that the mayor, Mayor’s Alliance, ASPCA (which gave up animal control in NYC years ago because euthanasia was bad press), or the NYCACC director (the eighth one in eight years) are doing anything to bring back the NYCACC Call Center. Animal lovers need to step up to the plate.

Friends who searched for Vivi (the Westminster Whippet lost at JFK in 2006) are at the city shelters everyday. The influx of animals is mind boggling. I met with them to brainstorm strategies. We are reluctant to “use Vivi” as a battle cry because her notoriety distracts from the present predicament. However, a media blitz is essential to get the word out. So far the Daily News (11/11/10) and Channel 11 WPIX (11/15/10) have publicized the lost pets’ plight.

In the meantime, please join a new Facebook page “I Lost MyPet” which will hopefully reunite missing pets. Reaching out to other agencies like the American Kennel Club and the microchip companies may help. A celebrity spokesperson could effectively reinforce the message that lost pets are not a lost cause. To some people, a pet is their only family.

Many city departments were hit with budget cuts. According to Newsday 11/19/10, inmates at prisons had their bread ration reduced from eight to six slices a day at a savings of $350,000. Give them three slices, and the savings will more than pay for the shelter Call Center.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon… where lost pets stand a much better chance of being reunited, if only someone would come looking… “Gabriel” #93680 is a young Chihuahua angel found as a stray, while “Rocky” #93700 is a one year old Cocker Spaniel, sweet but bewildered because his family moved back to Poland. The shelter is closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. Male Dogs: two Beagles; “Sammie” #93703 Pug mix resembling a Brussels Griffon; “Davie” #93520 my favorite Pit boy; brindle Pits-“Dunkin’, Duke, Louie”. Female Dogs: Pits-“Lydia” 93376 & “Brownie” #93150. Cats: “Mac” C-10; tabby “Clawdius” in the colony; “Charlotte” calico in the lobby. ** Seeking dedicated volunteers at Babylon Shelter, please call Chris Elton at the shelter or email Dr. Pezzanite at barb@liabc.com.

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