The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported receiving $122 million in donations last year in its cause to prevent animal cruelty, but some whistleblowers told PIX11 News that the ASPCA is preventing its own animal cruelty investigators from doing their jobs.
The 146 year-old organization has its own law enforcement division, called ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement, or HLE. Many of its 14 armed officers are NYPD retirees who, after a full 20-year distinguished career in the police force, pursue their passion for helping animals by joining HLE. They spend 10-hour days, seven days a week, investigating thousands of calls per year of cruelty to animals.
However, changes in HLE management in recent years have reduced investigators’ ability to fully pursue cases of abuse, according to PIX11 News sources, and the result, they say, has put many animals’ health in danger, and even cost some animals their lives.
An HLE case file obtained by PIX11 News features some very disturbing images. They are about a half dozen photographs that a responding HLE investigator was required to take of a pit bull mix that was so severely emaciated and badly neglected that it died. The case file clearly points out in its narrative, “This case is 2 weeks old,” too long after the ASPCA received an anonymous complaint about the starved dog for HLE officers to step in and save the dog’s life.
The cause of the delay in responding, according to sources familiar with HLE policies, is that the HLE’s overall caseload is severely backlogged. PIX11 obtained a photograph reportedly taken inside HLE’s operations center of printed-out animal cruelty complaint files for cases that have not yet been investigated. Sources tell PIX11 News that at the end of a typical calendar year, the number of uninvestigated complaints is under 30.
The photo of this year’s uninvestigated case files, however, shows five stacks of papers, hundreds of files deep. In fact, PIX11 also received a copy of a complaint letter addressed to the chief operating officer of the ASPCA from the Spay Neuter Intervention Project, or SNIP, a separate organization that works closely with the ASPCA. The SNIP letter not only estimates the number of backlogged cases to be 900, it also says “Humane Law Enforcement, the foundation and core of the ASPCA, has crumbled,” and goes on to say that “allegations of incompetence” against the directors of HLE “are rampant.”
PIX11 went to HLE’s operations center in Glendale, Queens in search of the director of the division, Howard Lawrence, in order to hear from him what had caused the backlog of cases. A staff member at the center said that Lawrence was not in the office at the time.
However, other ASPCA documents obtained by PIX11 News show that in February 2011, HLE created a policy of limiting the daily number of cases its investigators could pursue to five, even if investigative officers had time to do more than the new daily limit. Sources say that prior to the new policy being implemented, the number of cases that each of HLE’s 14 officers would investigate daily was at least seven on average, and that ten cases per day was not uncommon.
Couple that with the fact that attrition has reduced the number of HLE officers to 14 from 22 as recently as 2008, and you have a plummet in the number of cases the HLE Force can investigate. Potentially, the reduction is by as much as 50%. The result is cases like that of the pit bull mix found dead two weeks after a concerned citizen called the ASPCA.
That case is by no means isolated. PIX11 also obtained other case reports in which dogs were dead by the time investigators were finally given the case files for the called-in complaints. In one case, the investigator wasn’t able to respond to the complaint until seven days after it was called in. In another, the complaint wasn’t followed up for two-and-a-half months.
When HLE Director Howard Lawrence was unavailable, his office referred PIX11 to the ASPCA’s media office for comment. It issued a statement at the end of the business day Wednesday regarding the months-long backlog of cases, which said, in part, “This is an inaccurate representation. While it is not unusual for law enforcement agencies to have cases in the queue, case count is not an indicator of actual animals suffering. We handle thousands of cruelty complaints every year, and cases are prioritized by the gravity of the complaint. In keeping with our mission to end animal suffering, we are constantly looking at ways to expand our reach.”